Washington state Supreme Court ends state’s death penalty

Gavel. Photo: Public Domain Pictures

Oct. 11 (UPI) — Washington state’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional because it was inconsistently applied.

The court ruled the death penalty was applied unequally depending on factors including the location where the crime took place, the race of the defendant and the budgetary resources available to county prosecutors, making Washington the 20th state to abolish capital punishment, NBC News reported.

“The death penalty, as administered in our state, fails to serve any legitimate penological goal,” the court said.

The ruling was made in the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, who was convicted of raping and murdering a woman, Geneine Harshfield, 46, in 1996.

The court said it wouldn’t reconsider Gregory’s conviction of aggravated first-degree murder, but converted his death sentence and the sentences of the state’s seven other death row prisoners to death row to life sentences.

Washington has carried out five executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

All five defendants were white, but a study from the University of Washington found jurors in the state were “more than four times more likely to impose a death sentence if the defendant is black,” CNN reported.

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.

“Today’s decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington. The court makes it perfectly clear that capital punishment in our state has been imposed in an ‘arbitrary and racially biased manner,’ is ‘unequally applied’ and serves no criminal justice goal. This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice,” Inslee said.

The American Civil Liberties Union also commended the decision and expressed hope more states would eliminate the death penalty.

“Washington’s Supreme Court showed courage in refusing to allow racism to infect life and death decisions,” Jeff Robinson, the ACLU’s deputy legal director and director of the Trone Center for Justice said. “Let’s hope that courage is contagious.”

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