State lawmakers to again consider eliminating death penalty

Would require life without parole for first-degree murder

By TAYLOR MCAVOY | WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — A bill to be introduced this session would eliminate the death penalty in Washington state and require people convicted of first-degree murder to serve life sentences without the possibility of parole.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson requested Senate Bill 6052 after similar bills did not advance from committee last year.

“I’m reasonably optimistic that this could be the year,” Ferguson said, mentioning the bill’s bipartisan sponsorship. “The votes are there.”

Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, the bill’s prime sponsor, wrote in an email, “The fact is that taxpayers foot the multi-million dollar appeals process for the accused and we spend $50,000 a year for incarceration. A life sentence with NO chance of early release saves money and issues the ultimate punishment by denying the convicted their freedom and liberties for life just as they did their victim.”

Another reason for life imprisonment, according to Walsh: exoneration in light of new evidence.

In 2015, Seattle University’s School of Law examined 147 aggravated first-degree murder cases since 1997. The study estimated the average cost of capital punishment cases to be more than $3 million, compared to cases that did not seek the capital punishment to be about $2 million. The largest differential factors were trial-level prosecution costs, which are 2.3 times more expensive in capital punishment cases than cases that do not seek the death penalty; court and police costs which are 3.9 times more costly; and appeals which are 5.7 times more costly.

Walsh said the economic argument is a compelling one, but she said stories of lives affected by the death penalty are also worth discussing.

There are currently eight individuals on Washington’s death row, according to the state Department of Corrections. The last person to be executed in the state was Cal Coburn Brown in 2010.

In February 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a moratorium on executions in Washington state. The moratorium allows Inslee to grant reprieves. According to Inslee’s office last year, capital punishment is “unequally applied” and “sometimes dependent on the size of the county’s budget.”

— Taylor McAvoy is a reporter for the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.

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