12 October 2018 :
The State Supreme Court unanimously declared the death penalty unconstitutional, ruling it had been used in an arbitrary and racially biased manner. The court's action makes Washington the twentieth U.S. state to have judicially or legislatively abolished the death penalty. “The use of 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 Fairhurt wrote in the lead opinion. She added: “Our capital punishment law lacks ‘fundamental fairness.’” The decision was issued in the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, a black man who was convicted of a 1996 rape and murder. His lawyers argued that the death penalty is applied arbitrarily and disproportionately, therefore violating the state’s constitution. Gregory is one of the eight people on death row whose sentences will automatically be converted to life without parole. Data around capital murder convictions in Washington State show clear racial disparities. A 2014 study titled, The Role of Race in Washington State Capital Sentencing, 1981-2012, by Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans, found that “juries were three times more likely to impose a sentence of death when the defendant was black than in cases involving similarly situated white defendants.” Among the defense arguments was pointing out how Gary Ridgway, the so-called “Green River Killer” responsible for the deaths of at least 49 women, avoided the death penalty in a plea agreement with King County prosecutors. Many defense lawyers at the time said that if Ridgway wasn’t a candidate for capital punishment, nobody was. Since Thursday’s ruling was based on Washington’s constitution — not the federal Constitution — it cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court's action makes Washington the twentieth U.S. state to have judicially or legislatively abolished the death penalty, and the eighth to have done so this century. Governor Jay Inslee, who imposed a moratorium on all executions in 2014, hailed the ruling, saying, "Today’s decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington. ... This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.” Governor Jay Inslee, who imposed a moratorium on all executions in 2014, hailed the ruling, saying, "Today’s decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington. ... This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.” Washington has not carried out an execution since 2010. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said that the court's ruling had finally brought to an end "Washington's four-decade experiment with the death penalty." Satterberg, a Republican, who with Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson supported bipartisan legislation to abolish Washington's death penalty, said "I think the criminal justice system will be stronger without capital punishment." The abolition bill, which was the subject of legislative hearings during the 2018 state legislative session, passed the Washington Senate and the House judiciary committee, but did not receive a vote in the full House.