Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle (standing center), watches with Sen. Jaime Pedersen D-Seattle (seated center) as votes are tallied Friday on the Senate floor following debate in Olympia on a measure that would repeal the death penalty in Washington state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle (standing center), watches with Sen. Jaime Pedersen D-Seattle (seated center) as votes are tallied Friday on the Senate floor following debate in Olympia on a measure that would repeal the death penalty in Washington state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Senate passes death penalty repeal bill

The bill passed on a 28-19 vote and it now heads to the House for consideration.

By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

OLYMPIA — The Washington Senate on Friday approved a measure that would repeal the death penalty, just months after the state’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down capital punishment as arbitrary and racially biased.

The measure passed on a 28-19 vote, and would make that court ruling permanent by removing capital punishment as a sentencing option for aggravated murder and mandating instead a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. The bill now heads to the House for consideration, and Gov. Jay Inslee has said he will sign it if it makes it to his desk.

Execution was already extremely rare in Washington, and a governor-imposed moratorium has blocked its use since 2014. But the court’s October ruling eliminated it entirely, converting the sentences for the state’s eight death row inmates to life in prison without release.

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, which led Attorney General Bob Ferguson to request legislation to change state law.

Democratic Sen. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle, the bill’s sponsor, said that the governor and court had already taken a position on the death penalty and that it was time for the Legislature to do the same.

“It is time to close the chapter on this particular policy in a way that is respectful of the judicial process that has embarked for so many years and it’s also respectful of the civil dialogue that the American people have embraced,” he said.

With last year’s court ruling, the death penalty has been overturned or abolished in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and several states are considering measures this year. An additional three states — Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania — currently have moratoriums.

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. A statistical analysis by University of Washington sociologists 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.

Senators opposed to the measure argued that the death penalty should be retained for the most heinous cases, and as a tool for prosecutors to use to gain information about other victims.

“As a society, if we value innocent human life, we need to preserve the ultimate message to those who have taken it or might take it,” said Republican Sen. Steve O’Ban of University Place.

There have been 78 inmates, all men, put to death in Washington state since 1904. The most recent execution in the state came in 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

UW Medicine to furlough about 4,000 workers

Officials said it was necessary to address a $500 million financial impact from COVID-19.

Washington colleges, universities brace for big budget hit

At community colleges, many hands-on vocational programs were canceled.

Guest workers worry their bodies won’t get back to Mexico if they die

Only cremated remains have been approved for repatriation.

Baby gorilla badly injured in family skirmish at Seattle zoo

Kitoko was bitten on the head, likely by accident when another gorilla tried to bite his mothera.

2 new cases of Kawasaki-like disease in children in state

Symptoms include fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and swollen hands, feet, lymph nodes and lips.

‘Alarming’ number of motorcycle fatalities to start the year

Twenty-five motorcyclists have died so far this year throughout Washington state.

State sues Trump over college students’ coronavirus aid

AG Ferguson says over 85,000 students who desperately need financial assistance have been excluded.

‘Hundreds of millions’ in bogus jobless benefits paid out

Washington state has been reported as the top target of a Nigerian fraud ring.

GOP lawmakers are getting tired of Inslee’s pandemic powers

Some want a special legislative session, saying “it is time for the legislative branch to intervene.”

Washington contact tracers making calls to help fight virus

People notified of their potential exposure will not be told the name of the infected person.

EPA says federal dams raise water temperature in Snake River

The warmer water can cause fish to stop their migrations and swim around aimlessly, as though lost.

U-1 Miss HomeStreet driven by Jimmy Shane, left, and U-9 Sound Propeller Services Presents Les Schwab Tires driven by Andrew Tate race during the Seafair Hydroplane race Sunday afternoon in Seattle on August 7, 2016. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Annual Seafair festival in Seattle canceled

Organizers of the longtime annual festival in Seattle announced its major events will not happen.