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

A gurney inside a lethal injection chamber is seen in a file

Washington State's Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty is unlawful under the state constitution and has converted all eight current death sentences to life in prison.

The justices said that the death penalty is "invalid" because it is imposed "in an arbitrary and racially biased manner" and "fails to serve any legitimate penological goals".

The news is welcome, but not particularly surprising.

"Now that Washington has become the 20th state to end the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment, other states should follow suit", she added.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who declared a moratorium on Washington state's death penalty in 2014, saying at the time it was clear to him that use of capital punishment is inconsistent and unequal, issued a statement praising the Supreme Court's decision. What the Washington court focused on is what many states have come to see -- the death penalty is administered so arbitrarily, and is laced with so much conscious and unconscious racial bias, that it can not be seen as a just or even lawful act by the state. 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 state's highest court commuted every death sentence to one of life imprisonment.

And the justices said black defendants are more than four times as likely to receive the death penalty as white defendants for the same crimes.

Ferguson said he will ask the 2019 Legislature to "take the final step" and abolish the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without parole.

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There are now eight men on death row at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Among them was former Justice Faith Ireland, who sided with the narrow majority in upholding capital punishment in 2006.

Convicted June 22, 2001 for the stabbing deaths of his wife Anouchka Baldwin, 37, and stepdaughters Amanda Baldwin, 15, and Salome Holle, 18 in King County on March 6, 1999.

"We leave open the possibility that the legislature may enact a "carefully drafted statute".to impose capital punishment in this state, but it can not create a system that offends constitutional rights", the majority opinion states.

There will be no more state-sanctioned murders of possibly innocent and disproportionally black people in Washington State! In 1981 the Legislature passed a bill reinstating the death penalty and has amended it several times since then. We should act quickly to remove the death penalty from state law once and for all.

"This is bad", Kathleen O'Bert said after the ruling.

The court didn't reconsider any of Gregory's arguments pertaining to guilt, noting that his conviction for aggravated first-degree murder "has already been appealed and affirmed by this court". Reuven Carlyle, who had been a sponsor of those previous attempts, said in a text message.

"The death penalty should be rarely used, but I do think it should be an option in the most heinous cases", he said.

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