Death Penalty Bill: An Update on ‘Pendulum’January 31st, 2007 by josh farley
Though we’ve recently discussed capital punishment here at the forum — no jokes about how everyone in the “capitol” should be punished please — we need to revisit the topic.
Why? Because some of our legislators, including local Rep. Patricia Lantz, are calling for a bill that would put a stay on the death penalty until July 2008.
House bill 1518 would create a “death penalty task force,” that would look into the overall system.
Capital punishment in the United States is certainly on the decline. A recent Associated Press story by Robert Tanner reported that the “number of death sentences handed out in the United States dropped in 2006 to the lowest level since capital punishment was reinstated 30 years ago, reflecting what some experts say is a growing fear that the criminal justice system will make a tragic and irreversible mistake.”
What is your take on the issue?
But before you do that, here’s some more background.
In the U.S., 37 of 38 states use lethal injection as the means to carry out the death penalty. But recent cases in Missouri, California and Florida have seen the courts choose to re-examine the issue of whether the form of execution is “cruel and unusual punishment.” One of the last acts of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was to suspend the death penalty and establish a commision to see if injections were “constitutional,” according to an article in the Economist.
Here in Washington, where the death penalty has been used off and on since 1854 when it was a terriotory, there are now seven individuals on death row, according to the department of corrections. An eighth was recently overturned by the state’s supreme court.
Kitsap County actually has the oldest case on death row, also according to the corrections department. Jonathan L. Gentry, convicted in 1991 of fatally bludgeoning 12-year-old Cassie Holden just outside Bremerton, was recently in court on another appeal to overturn his sentence. That outcome is pending.
Apart from federal issues, Washington state has its own quandry with the death penalty. Here it is, summed up by AP writer Gene Johnson:
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng has not sought capital punishment in the past three years — ever since he famously agreed to a plea deal that spared the life of the Green River serial killer, Gary Ridgway, in exchange for help finding more remains of his victims. Many lawyers wonder if he will ever seek the death penalty again against lesser murderers.
Also according to Johnson, a state supreme court decision last year saw the high court vote 5-4 in keeping the death penalty law — thus the pendulum may be close to swinging toward banning it.
Where do you fall?