Washington state officially abolishes death penalty

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) — Washington state has officially abolished the death penalty.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5087 on Friday, which removes state laws that Washington’s Supreme Court determined are invalid or unconstitutional. The state’s high court struck down the death penalty in 2018, but the law remained on the books.

“It’s official. The death penalty is no longer in state law,” Inslee said on Twitter after the signing. He also thanked legislators and other leaders who were part of the decade-long effort to end the practice, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

In 2014, Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty. In 2018, Washington’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the death penalty, calling it arbitrary and racially biased.

A statistical analysis by University of Washington sociologists, cited by the judges, showed that juries were about four times more likely to sentence Black defendants to death.

“To the extent that race distinguishes the cases, it is clearly impermissible and unconstitutional,” Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote in the lead opinion.

The court’s opinion also converted the sentences for the state’s eight people on death row to life in prison without release.

The last execution by the state was in 2010 at the prison in Walla Walla. Cal Brown was executed by lethal injection for a 1991 murder. A total of 78 people, all men, were put to death in Washington between 1904 and 2010.

Twenty-seven states, including Idaho, still have the death penalty, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center. Oregon has a moratorium in place to halt the practice.

Last month, Idaho’s Republican Gov. Brad Little signed a bill allowing execution by firing squad, making Idaho the latest state to turn to older methods of capital punishment amid a nationwide shortage of lethal-injection drugs.