Local elected prosecutors are backing a proposal to ask voters
if they want to reaffirm or toss the state’s rarely used death
Tina Robinson, in Kitsap, and Michael Dorcy, in Mason County,
both say they are in favor of the death penalty, but are also
supportive of the proposal from the Washington Association of
Robinson said she has concerns about how the death penalty is
carried out, the length of time it takes to carry out the sentence
and the effect that has on families.
“We want to hear from the citizens of Washington,” Robinson
Robinson has considered pursuing the death penalty once during
her term – she took office in January – for
the case of Geraldo DeJesus, accused of killing his ex-girlfriend
and her roommate’s toddler in March. After consulting with
family members and survivors, Robinson opted not to pursue it
(DeJesus has pleaded not guilty is currently scheduled for trial
Feb. 8, 2016).
Dorcy got closer in
the case of Charles Longshore, convicted in 2014 of killing two
people in Shelton, but after a lengthy and intensive seven-month
process, opted not to pursue it, a decision he believes was right.
Dorcy has been in office since 2010.
The proposal is for a referendum, which means voters would have
a chance to weigh in after the Legislature and governor approve it,
as opposed to an initiative, which is placed on the ballot after a
certain number of signatures are gathered. Lawmakers could consider
the matter when the Legislature meets in January.
Although the state’s current law has been on the books for 34
years, it is reserved for specific types of murder — aggravated
first-degree murder — and has rarely been used. Since voters
approved the death penalty in 1975, five people have been executed
in Washington state. Currently there are nine people on death row
The longest serving inmate on death row, Jonathan Gentry, was
sentenced to die by a Kitsap jury in 1991.
context, since 1976 the state of Texas, where the death penalty
is used more than any other state, has executed 530 people.
Although the process is intensive and expensive, a factor both
Robinson and Dorcy say is something they consider, it is not the
“driver of the bus,” as Dorcy put it.
Tossing the state’s law, if voters choose to do so, might be
fairly simple. Presumably the sentences of those on death row could
be commuted to life without parole and as of the issuance of the
association’s statement there were no pending death penalty cases
in the state.
Keeping the death penalty on the books, however, doesn’t
necessarily mean inmates sentenced to death will be executed any
more quickly nor does it mean it would be used more frequently.
First, Gov. Jay Inslee has imposed a moratorium on executions.
If voters elected another governor, however, they would not be
required to maintain the moratorium.
However, those sentenced to die have numerous appeals available
to them, state and federal, some mandatory.
There is also the matter of method. Washington
state, historically, has used hangings to execute people.
Lethal injection has been an option since 1986, and was used in the
past three executions, the last one taking place in 2010.
However, the companies that have made the drugs used in lethal
injection are from Europe, and object to capital punishment, and
have refused to import them to the U.S. Some states have found
substitute drugs, but there have been reports of those drugs not
working as intended.
And Washington did not have any of the accepted drugs on hand
when Inslee declared his moratorium.
Below is the statement, issued from the office of King County
Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
Nov. 12, 2015
The prosecuting attorneys of Washington State overwhelmingly
believe that the people of the state should vote on the
question of whether the state should retain the death penalty as an
option in cases of aggravated murder. As the elected
officials entrusted with the fair administration of capital
punishment in our state, we call upon the Governor and the
Legislature to place a referendum on the ballot next year seeking
guidance from the voters about this significant public policy
It was forty years ago, in 1975, that the people of the
state approved Initiative 316, which created the death penalty in
our state. The previous death penalty scheme had been found
unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in the Fuhrman v.
Georgia case in 1972. The language of the initiative was
amended by the Legislature in 1981 to comport with the 1981 State
Supreme Court decision in Frampton.
For the past thirty-four years Washington prosecutors have
pursued capital punishment in the most heinous
murders committed in our state. During that time,
prosecutors sought the death penalty in 90 of 268 cases where it
was a possible sentence. Jurors returned unanimous verdicts
of the death penalty in 32 of those 90 cases.
The 32 death sentences that have been imposed under the
current statute have resulted in the execution of five men, three
of whom were “volunteers” who instructed their attorneys to not
pursue appeals of their convictions. Two men were executed
following a lengthy period of appeals: Charles Rodman Campbell in
Snohomish County, executed in 1994 for three murders committed in
1982, and Cal Colburn Brown in King County, executed in 2010 for a
murder committed in 1991. Nine men currently reside on death row,
awaiting more appellate process.
Eighteen men who were sentenced to the death penalty had
their sentences reversed by appellate courts and their cases were
ultimately resolved without imposition of the death
Most of the people in the state of Washington today did
not participate in the election forty years ago that established
our state as one of 31 U.S. states with the death penalty.
The citizens of Nebraska will vote on the repeal or retention of
the death penalty in that state next year. Washington State
voters should have a similar choice.
Prosecuting Attorneys act daily as ministers of
justice exercising the power and authority of the state in
the name of the people of the state. Prosecutors want to
know that when we embark on the long and difficult process of
capital punishment for the worst crimes inflicted upon our
community that we are doing so with the support and approval of the
people we represent.
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