Washington state's top court bans death penalty as biased, arbitrary

Washington Supreme Court rules death penalty unconstitutional changes death sentences to life

Washington Supreme Court rules death penalty unconstitutional changes death sentences to life

Washington became the 20th USA state to abolish capital punishment when its Supreme Court struck down the death penalty on Thursday, saying in a unanimous decision that its application was arbitrary and racially biased.

The news is welcome, but not particularly surprising. Three other states have governor-imposed moratoria in carrying out executions -- all also issued in the last decade.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who has called unsuccessfully for the Legislature to abolish the death penalty and in 2014 placed a moratorium on executions during his term in office, hailed the decision Thursday morning. In the wake of the decision, Inslee released a statement calling the ruling "a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice".

"Our laws should reflect the will of the people especially a law with this moral significance, therefore, the people of Washington should vote on whether or not the death penalty is inconsistent with our values", Lindquist said. It joins Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, in banning the practice.

The court struck down the death sentence of Allen Eugene Gregory, who was convicted of the 1996 rape, robbery and murder of a woman in her Tacoma home.

"This decision can not be appealed to the United States Supreme court this is a final decision by our State Supreme court", Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. "A death sentence has become more random and arbitrarily sought and imposed, and fraught with uncertainty and unreliability, and it fails constitutional examination", it said. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1974 put the death penalty on hold nationally, Washington voters passed a state capital punishment law in 1975 by more than 2-to-1.

"The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner", the decision reads.

The justices said that the study showed that from 1981 through May 2014, black defendants were 3.5 to 4.6 times as likely to be sentenced to death than other defendants.

This time, death penalty critics were armed with more data about how capital punishment works, including a statistical analysis by University of Washington sociologists. Washington has executed 78 people since 1904, all men, but no one since 2010. "The court recognized that Washington state's death penalty is broken". Among them was former Justice Faith Ireland, who sided with the narrow majority in upholding capital punishment in 2006. It was the furthest any death penalty measure had gotten in the state Legislature after several years of effort.

"This is terrible", Kathleen O'Bert said after the ruling. They will no longer be forced to endure the uncertainty of death penalty cases that may extend for 20 years through appeals and often are overturned.

Opponents of the death penalty, such as the ACLU, are cheering the decision. Reuven Carlyle, who had been a sponsor of those previous attempts, said in a text message.