Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday he is imposing a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington state while he is governor, saying there are “too many doubts” about capital punishment.
“There are too many flaws in the system today,” he said. “When the ultimate decision is death, there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.”
Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to reporters Tuesday
Inslee said he came to the decision after months of studying the issue and touring the death chamber at Walla Walla State Penitentiary, where nine men are currently on death row. Inmates in the state are executed by lethal injection or hanging.
Inslee said he will issue a reprieve if a death warrant comes across his desk while he is governor. It would not commute the sentence or pardon the offender.
“Those on death row will remain in prison for the rest of their lives. No one is getting out of prison, period,” he said.
Inslee acknowledged that the reprieve could be reversed by future governors. He said he chose a “relatively restrained use of executive power” so that the state could continue the conversation about the death penalty.
Washington’s Constitution grants the governor the ability to issue reprieves or stays of execution. Attorney General Bob Ferguson confirmed Tuesday the “governor has the authority to hit the ‘pause’ button for executions in Washington.”
The governor said he spoke with the family members of the murder victims as recently as Monday. “In the course of one day, I heard different things from different families,” Inslee said. Some were disappointed, while others told the governor that the death penalty appeals process is a source of constant anxiety.
“It’s a hard decision given what it means to everyone in the state, and I’m comfortable that it is the right decision,” Inslee said.
Republican Rep. Jay Rodne sits on the House Judiciary Committee, and issued a statement Tuesday saying the governor’s decision comes at the “expense of victims of violent crimes and their families.”
“This must be a difficult day for these families as they are confronted with the reality that the governor cares more about a few convicted killers than justice for their loved ones. It’s unfortunate and prolongs the closure they deserve,” Rodne said.
Most recently, Cal Brown was executed in 2010. The next execution is expected to be Jonathan Lee Gentry, who is on death row for the murder of 12-year-old Cassie Holden. The Washington Supreme Court rejected Gentry’s petition for release last month.
Watch TVW video of Tuesday’s press conference here.