Attorney General Bob Ferguson
Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a press conference announcing he's proposing legislation to abolish executions (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson
Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son speaks at a press con­fer­ence announc­ing he’s propos­ing leg­is­la­tion to abol­ish exe­cu­tions (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“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!

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One reply on “Attorney General Bob Ferguson unveils bipartisan legislation to abolish executions”

  1. When the death penal­ty was tak­en off the table in the OJ Simp­son case, I began to ques­tion the moral­i­ty of Capi­tol pun­ish­ment. Appar­ent­ly, in our jus­tice sys­tem, the life of a celebri­ty has more val­ue. While I’m com­plete­ly in the abol­ish­ment camp, I do think there is not a fair and equi­table system.

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