Is Another State About to Abolish the Death Penalty?

Do you think the government should have a hand in dictating morality by applying the punishment of death to someone who commits a crime? If your answer is no, you might like what is happening in Washington state.

In Washington state, lawmakers across both sides of the aisle are optimistic that 2018 will be the year that the death penalty is put to rest in the Evergreen State.

In 2014, Washington Governor Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on capital punishment which would last for as long as he was in office.

Lethal injection is legal in Washington state unless the inmate would prefer to be hanged. Anyone found guilty of aggravated first-degree murder can be put to death. Seventy-eight people have been executed in Washington since 1904.

The page about capital punishment on the state government's website even goes out of its way to divide those who have been executed by ethnicity. Since 1904, 66 caucasians, 7 blacks, 2 asians, 2 hispanics, and 1 Eskimo have been executed.

The latest bill in the Washington State Legislature would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Democratic State Senator Jamie Pedersen of Seattle, the new chair on the committee overseeing the bill, expects the current push to abolish the death penalty to fly straight through the legislature to the governor's desk, which would be the furthest this type of legislation has made it in the last five years.

“The stars may be aligning now for support of doing away with the death penalty,” says Pederson.

The Evergreen State hasn’t seen an execution since 2010 when Cal Coburn Brown was convicted for the 1991 rape and murder of 21 year-old Holly Washa, and was put to death by lethal injection.

The old chairman of Pedersen's committee, Republican Senator Mike Padden of Spokane Valley, however, has been an outspoken advocate for the death penalty remaining the law of the state.

Some even place blame on Senator Mike Padden for the stalled progress of this legislation as he would not grant past death penalty bills a hearing.

“I don’t anticipate I’ll be supporting the bill,” Padden said last week. “Some crimes are so heinous and so brutal that I think the death penalty is appropriate.”

Padden points out that the current laws on capital punishment have been used as a negotiating tool against some of the state’s most egregious offenders.

Among those offenders is serial killer Gary Ridgway ,who is known as the “Green River Killer,” who agreed to tell prosecutors the whereabouts of victims in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table in his case.

Washington state’s prosecutors are split on the death penalty.

“The death penalty is a question with profound moral implications, certainly worthy of wide discussion,” said Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

He further made it clear that the “discussion should not be limited to legislative debate in Olympia, but instead should be the subject of civic dialogue around the entire state.”

The executive director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Tom McBride, defended the death penalty.

“The constitutionality and evenhanded imposition of the death penalty in Washington state are issues that we will defend; but the costs, timely imposition and ultimate appropriateness of death for aggravated murder is certainly open to debate,” McBride told The News Tribune through email.

According to the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty, as of October 2015, the U.S. has executed over 1,414 individuals since 1976. Since 1973, 156 individuals have been exonerated from death row.

One of those cases happened in the Evergreen State in 1986. Benjamin Harris was convicted for the murder of Jimmie Lee Turner and sentenced to death only to have the charges dropped on appeal 11 years later. An inadequate defense counsel may have led to Harris’ initial conviction.

A Seattle University study examining the costs of the death penalty in Washington found that each death penalty case costs an average of $1 million more than a similar case where the death penalty is not sought ($3.07 million, versus $2.01 million).

The complexity of the issue requires us to stop and ask serious questions.

To reiterate the question asked at the beginning of this article, should the government place its hand into morality by dictating who lives or who dies?

Also, out of the 1,414 executed by 2015, how many of them were wrongfully convicted?

Is there any crime that an individual could commit that would be so heinous to the point where it is justifiable for the state to sentence them to death?

If we could be 100% certain about 100% of all legal convictions, would you reconsider your position on the death penalty?

Have thoughts on the issue? Leave them in the comment section below.

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