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Washington governor signs repeal of death penalty


Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a law formally repealing the death penalty Thursday.

Capital punishment has been illegal in Washington for five years, after the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. The court found the state had been using the death penalty in what it called an “arbitrary and racially biased manner.” Prior to that Governor Jay Inslee had declared a moratorium on executions.

When capital punishment was overturned, there were eight people on death row.

According to a report from the State Bar Association that the Supreme Court reviewed before their decision, death penalty cases over the last few decades were concentrated among 10 counties. Justices also cited research by University of Washington professor Katherine Becket, who found racial disparities in how the death penalty had been applied.

Since 1904, 78 people have been executed, according to the Department of Corrections. The last person, Cal Coburn Brown, was killed by lethal injection in the Wallla Walla State Penitentiary in 2010. According to a report from The Seattle Times, his death was witnessed by reporters and the family of the woman he was convicted of killing.

The bill to remove the death penalty was sponsored by Seattle Democrat Jamie Pederson in the Senate and Des Moines Representative Tina Orwall in the House, who issued a statement Thursday with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who has been working to outlaw the practice since 2017.

“Removing the death penalty and other laws struck down by the courts from our statute books both helps regular people understand what the law is and also makes a profound statement of our values,” Pedersen said.

The bill also removed other unconstitutional laws, including forced sterilization and requiring public employees to sign anti-communist pledges.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.