February 25, 2014
Death penalty overdue for reconsideration
More than five years ago, this newspaper called for the state Legislature to revisit the value of Washington’s death penalty. Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee opened the door to begin the overdue conversation by implementing a death-penalty moratorium while he is the state’s elected CEO.
At first glance, it may seem unimportant. Washington state has had only five executions in the past 50 years.
But consider that there are nine men currently on death row in Washington prisons. Consider that taxpayers pay for the prosecution, for the public defenders and for the court system. Those cases are under appeal and the appeals will go forward. Inslee’s mandate does not do away with capital punishment, it just removes the killings from happening on his watch.
The Washington Bar Association released a study in 2007 concluding that death penalty cases cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars more than trying the same case without the death penalty. A California study found that a system without a death penalty would save taxpayers 90 percent of expenses for prosecution and imprisonments. Maryland found death penalty cases are three times more costly.
But the death penalty is an issue so much bigger than dollars and cents. It is an ethical dilemma for all of us. We, the citizenry, ask state employees to strap a man to a gurney from which he won’t rise. We ask someone to stand by and hear his last words. Ultimately, we ask one of our state employees to kill another person on our behalf.
The original crime comes home to roost on all our shoulders when a man is put to death by our own decision to support the death penalty.
Inslee has taken a first step, but it is too tentative. Inslee needs to go all in — one way or the other.
It may not be an election year for the governor, but it is for most of our state representatives. Let’s use the election conversation to get momentum started toward a repeal or confirmation of the state’s death penalty.