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Washington’s Highest Court Strikes Down State’s Death Penalty

12 October 2018

An inmate's view of the interior of the lethal injection facility.

Washington's Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that the death penalty is unconstitutional, ending the practice in the state.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a one-time supporter of capital punishment, had previously said no executions will take place while he's in office and put a moratorium on the death penalty.

Though the Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional as it's been applied in Washington state, it didn't rule that it's fundamentally unconstitutional, so some legislatures still want to pass a bill. In a written statement, the Democrat called the ruling "a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice".

"Today's decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington".

The ACLU noted the ruling makes Washington the 20th state in the U.S.to ban the death penalty, but the group said it "won't stop fighting until it's struck down everywhere in America".

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But he received the death penalty for murdering another Tacoma woman, 65-year-old Yushiko Couch. In 1981 the Legislature passed a bill reinstating the death penalty and has amended it several times since then. The court was unanimous in its order that the eight people now on death row have their sentences converted to life in prison.

There are now eight inmates on Washington's death row. But nationally, death sentences are down 85 percent since the 1990s, Dunham said.

Convicted April 12, 2010 of four counts of aggravated first degree murder in the deaths of Olga Milkin, 28; her sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24, July 16, 2006 in King County. At resentencing, a new jury again sentenced Gregory to death.

Byron Eugene Scherf, for the murder of a correctional officer on January 29, 2011, inside the state prison at Monroe.

There were 23 executions in the United States in 2017, down from a peak of 98 in 1999, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors US capital punishment. On death row for 21 years.

"Our laws should reflect the will of the people especially a law with this moral significance, therefore, the people of Washington should vote on whether or not the death penalty is inconsistent with our values", Lindquist said.

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That unconstitutionality largely has to do with the "inconsistent and unequal" argument that Governor Inslee and others have made.

"It's exponentially more expensive to litigate a death penalty case", Lindquist said.

"It also is arbitrary how it is applied depending on where the crime occurs", he said. A jury imposed the death penalty in about 30 of those cases.

This time, death penalty critics were armed with more data about how capital punishment works, including a statistical analysis by University of Washington sociologists. But over the past couple years he has become convinced that it is not working in Washington state.

Gregory argued that the death penalty in Washington is "unequally applied", and the justices agreed with him.

The report found significant county-by-county variation in decisions to seek or impose the death penalty. "So that creates complications".

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Washington’s Highest Court Strikes Down State’s Death Penalty