Monday February 24th, 2020 4:37PM

Washington state ends 'racially biased' death penalty

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington's Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state's death penalty Thursday as arbitrary and racially biased, making it the 20th state to do away with capital punishment.

Execution was already extremely rare in Washington, with five prisoners put to death in recent decades and a governor-imposed moratorium blocking its use since 2014.

But the court's opinion eliminated it entirely, converted the sentences for the state's eight death row inmates to life in prison without release, and furthered a trend away from capital punishment in the U.S.

"The death penalty is becoming increasingly geographically isolated," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center. "It's still on the books in 30 states, but it's not being used in 30 states. It's becoming a creature of the Deep South and the Southwest."

Texas continues to execute more prisoners than any other state — 108 since 2010. Florida has executed 28, Georgia 26 and Oklahoma 21 in that timeframe. But nationally, death sentences are down 85 percent since the 1990s, Dunham said.

In the past 15 years, seven states — Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York — have abandoned capital punishment through court order or legislative act, and three — Colorado, Oregon and Pennsylvania — have adopted moratoriums.

In New Hampshire and Nebraska, lawmakers banned the death penalty but saw those decisions overturned by veto or referendum.

The concerns cited in those states have ranged from procedural matters, such as the information provided to sentencing jurors in New York, to worries about executing an innocent person or racial and other disparities in who is sentenced to death, as was the case in Washington.

"The death penalty is unequally applied — sometimes by where the crime took place, or the county of residence, or the available budgetary resources at any given point in time, or the race of the defendant," Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote in the lead opinion.

She added: "Our capital punishment law lacks 'fundamental fairness.'"

Defense lawyers had long challenged the death penalty on those grounds, noting the state's worst mass murderers and serial killers, Green River killer Gary Ridgway among them, had received life terms, not death. In a 5-4 ruling in 2006, the justices rejected an argument from a death row inmate that he shouldn't be executed because Ridgway hadn't been executed.

This time, death penalty critics were armed with more data about how capital punishment works, including a statistical analysis by University of Washington sociologists. Their report showed that although prosecutors were not more likely to seek the execution of black defendants, juries were about four times more likely to sentence black defendants to death.

"Now the information is plainly before us," Fairhurst wrote. "To the extent that race distinguishes the cases, it is clearly impermissible and unconstitutional."

Gov. Jay Inslee, a one-time supporter of capital punishment, imposed the 2014 moratorium.

"Washington state is now among a growing number of states that has eliminated this costly and capricious sentencing program of capital punishment," Inslee told a news conference. "The certainty of death in prison remains the same. Today's decision does not let anyone out of prison."

The ruling came in the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, a black man who was convicted of raping, robbing and killing Geneine Harshfield, a 43-year-old woman, in 1996.

"However one feels about the propriety of capital punishment in theory, in practice the death penalty is imposed in an unfair, arbitrary, and racially biased manner," one of his attorneys, Lila Silverstein, said in a written statement.

Dozens of former state judges took the unusual step of urging the court to use Gregory's case to strike down capital punishment. Among them was former Justice Faith Ireland, who sided with the narrow majority in upholding capital punishment in 2006.

The court did not rule out the possibility that the Legislature could come up with another manner of imposing death sentences that would be constitutional. The governor said he did not expect lawmakers to try, but if they did, he'd veto it.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson has said that he plans to ask the Legislature to move next session to take the death penalty law off the books, something Inslee said he'd sign.

Dunham said it was important that the ruling was based on the facts of Washington's use of capital punishment.

"Those are issues that plague the death penalty everywhere it's administered," he said. "We're certain to see prisoners challenging the death penalty in other states using the reasoning of the Washington Supreme Court."

The court didn't reconsider any of Gregory's arguments pertaining to guilt, noting that his conviction for aggravated first-degree murder "has already been appealed and affirmed by this court."

Earlier this year, the state Senate passed a measure abolishing the death penalty, but it failed to pass in the House.

"There is a profound shift in our state and country that the death penalty is below us as a civil, just and moral society," Democratic Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who had been a sponsor of those previous attempts, said in a text message.

Republican Sen. Mike Padden, who voted against the death penalty abolition, said he was troubled by the ruling's impact.

"The death penalty should be rarely used, but I do think it should be an option in the most heinous cases," he said.


AP writer Gene Johnson contributed from Seattle. Follow Rachel La Corte at https://twitter.com/RachelAPOly

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News
© Copyright 2020 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Washington state ends 'racially biased' death penalty
The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty violates the state's Constitution
6:51PM ( 13 minutes ago )
AP Photos: Hurricane leaves Florida's Mexico Beach in shreds
AP Photos: Hurricane leaves Florida's Mexico Beach in shreds
6:39PM ( 25 minutes ago )
The Latest: Florida psychiatric hospital 'cut off' by storm
State officials say Hurricane Michael left Florida's largest psychiatric hospital "entirely cut off."
6:38PM ( 26 minutes ago )
U.S. News
Kanye West, in 'MAGA' hat, delivers surreal Oval Office show
Kanye West has delivered a jaw-dropping performance at the Oval Office in a visit with President Donald Trump
6:35PM ( 29 minutes ago )
High-flying tech stocks at forefront of Wall Street's slump
Technology and internet stocks are leading Wall Street's recent downturn
6:31PM ( 33 minutes ago )
US pastor detained in Turkey may soon be released
An American pastor may soon be released after two years of captivity in Turkey
6:22PM ( 42 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
GOP, home to Trump and Tea Party, decries Dems' mob rule
President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans say Democrats are using 'mob rule' and radical tactics and warning GOP voters that things may only get worse
5:49PM ( 1 hour ago )
Stocks plunge again; Dow's two-day loss reaches 1,300 points
U.S. stocks tumble for the second consecutive day as the market's recent downturn gets worse
5:42PM ( 1 hour ago )
APNewsBreak: Louisiana pays $149K to settle harassment suit
Louisiana agrees to pay nearly $150,000 to end a sexual misconduct lawsuit against a former secretary of state who resigned in May, the state's highest public official felled by accusations during the #MeToo movement
5:31PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Overpressurized lines caused deadly gas explosions, feds say
Federal investigators are confirming that over pressurized natural gas lines were the source of a series of explosions and fires in communities north of Boston last month
4:02PM ( 3 hours ago )
Prosecutors: Father helped daughter in murder-suicide plot
Prosecutors: Former Missouri jailer persuaded terminally ill father to kill her estranged husband to resolve a custody dispute and then to kill himself so it appeared to be a murder-suicide
3:55PM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Experts examine Georgia's possible tornado sites
After reports of several possible tornadoes touching down in Georgia, National Weather Service crews are going out to examine the sites
3:54PM ( 3 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
US asks Central America to do more on illegal immigration
Vice President Mike Pence is asking the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to do more to stem the flow of illegal immigrants
4:36PM ( 2 hours ago )
No surprise: Kanye's free-style riffs dominate Oval Office
Declaring that his Make America Great Again hat makes him "feel like Superman," rapper Kanye West made a free-styling appearance in the Oval Office Thursday
3:18PM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Human rights groups refer Khashoggi case to UN
Reporters Without Borders says it and two other human rights groups have referred the case of missing Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
3:02PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
The Latest: Florida governor asks debate delay after storm
Florida's governor is asking for a two week delay in a debate with the Democratic incumbent in the U.S. Senate race so he can focus on response and recovery from the storm
1:59PM ( 5 hours ago )
India's #MeToo comes amid calls for 2013 law's enforcement
A complaint by a retired Bollywood actress living in the United States alleging sexual harassment on a 2008 movie set has galvanized women in India, but lawyers and activists say a labor law must be more aggressively implemented for #MeToo to succeed
12:37PM ( 6 hours ago )
GOP ramps up election-season warning of 'toxic' Dem tactics
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is ramping up his argument that Democrats and their liberal allies are resorting to dangerous tactics
12:24PM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
AP Photos: Hurricane leaves Florida's Mexico Beach in shreds
AP Photos: Hurricane leaves Florida's Mexico Beach in shreds
6:39PM ( 25 minutes ago )
The Latest: Florida psychiatric hospital 'cut off' by storm
State officials say Hurricane Michael left Florida's largest psychiatric hospital "entirely cut off."
6:38PM ( 27 minutes ago )
'Unimaginable destruction': Hurricane smashes rows of houses
The devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael in Florida is coming into focus: Rows and rows of homes lie smashed to pieces
6:26PM ( 39 minutes ago )
Images trickle out of Michael's vast devastation
Images trickle out of Michael's vast devastation
6:23PM ( 42 minutes ago )
'Greedy' young mayor stole from investors, feds say
A 26-year-old Massachusetts mayor is charged with using money from his company's investors to bankroll a lavish lifestyle and advance his political career
6:05PM ( 59 minutes ago )