Flanked by former Attorney General Rob McKenna and Governor Jay Inslee, current Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced a major new effort to abolish the barbaric practice of state-sponsored executions in Washington, supported by a bipartisan group of legislators from each house.
Declaring that it is the responsibility of leaders to lead, Ferguson said the time has come for the Legislature to take a vote on ending the costly, ineffective death penalty. Ferguson noted he was originally elected in 2012 despite significant negative advertising assailing him for his opposition to capital punishment.
“There is no role for capital punishment in a fair, equitable and humane justice system,” Ferguson said in a statement calling for action.
“The Legislature has evaded a vote on the death penalty for years. The public deserves to know where their representatives stand.”
“The current system is not working,” agreed McKenna, Ferguson’s Republican predecessor. “There is too much delay, cost and uncertainty around the death penalty, which is why I stand today with Attorney General Ferguson and this bipartisan group of legislators in support of this change.”
Ferguson primarily cited the toll victims families take from having to relive their experience in the never ending cycle of appeals that they go through as well as the financial cost attributed to maintaining such a system.
When pressed on how or whether the legislation would affect the current inmates on death row, its proponents noted the bill does not contain language that would make it apply retroactively, but they pledged to talk with the families of victims of condemned inmates in order to determine how to move forward.
The bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Mark Milocosa (R‑30th District: Federal Way, Algona, Pacific) and in the House by Tina Orwell (D‑33rd District) respectively with cosponsors from both sides of the aisle.
“Over the last four decades, 156 people have been exonerated from death row across the nation. How many more continue waiting for new evidence to prove their innocence, and will they get it before their lives are taken?” said Orwall.
“If we truly want to serve justice, the state should avoid irreversible punishment to individuals who were wrongly convicted and would have otherwise been executed.”
Other legislators taking part in today’s announcement spearheaded by Ferguson to push for abolition include Democrats Reuven Carlyle, Jamie Pedersen, and Jeannie Darnielle, and Republicans Terry Nealey and Maureen Walsh.
“As a former prosecuting attorney for Columbia County, my heart remains with the families of the victims who suffered horrific acts that would justify the death penalty,” said Nealey. “Their feelings should never be minimalized.”
“That is why it has taken so long for my thoughts to evolve against the death penalty in Washington State. However, the steps, the immense and extended time, and the incredible expense and resources it takes to impose and uphold this most severe form of punishment have made the death penalty nearly impossible to carry out. In recent years, even in the most heinous crimes, jurors have failed to impose the death penalty. In the meantime, families suffer for years with the angst of having to go through trials, court proceedings, appeals and more, not knowing if the death penalty will ever take place.”
We at NPI applaud this new effort to abolish executions in Washington State, and will commit to emphatically supporting it now and in the days ahead. Washington must be a beacon of light in dark and uncertain times. It’s up to us to show the rest of the country that there is a different path forward.
States like Maryland and New Mexico and Nebraska have shown it’s possible to abolish executions. Now it’s time for us in the Pacific Northwest to act. We have a moral obligation to end systemic racism and inequity in our criminal justice system. Putting people to death as a society is barbaric and must end.
Governor Jay Inslee showed great courage several years ago when he placed a moratorium on executions. While that was a worthy first step, further action is needed. That’s why we are delighted that Attorney General Ferguson is joining our Governor in leading a bipartisan push for abolition.
Mike Padden and others in the Senate Republican caucus are unlikely to be supportive of this legislation and may not let it come to the floor for a vote this year. But even if they don’t, now is certainly the time to lay the groundwork for a successful abolition bill in the future. What’s been missing in the past is strong leadership from the executive department. And now, at last, we have that.
Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson are the Dynamic Duo of Washington State politics. When they join forces to work for progressive ideas that would improve quality of life in our state, they make a great team. We’re thrilled to have been present today for the unveiling of this important campaign to advance civil rights and make criminal justice more equitable in our region.
What better way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s legacy? Happy MLK Day!