The state Senate Law & Justice Committee heard public testimony Monday in Olympia on a bipartisan proposal to end the death penalty in Washington state, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole for those convicted of aggravated first-degree murder.
Among those testifying in favor of the proposal were families of murder victims, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Satterberg wrote an editorial advocating for an end to the death penalty in the Seattle Times on Friday.
“Our death penalty process is too slow, too uncertain, too costly and ultimately, by any measure, it cannot be said to work,” Satterberg wrote. “It is time to move on from this four-decades-long failed experiment, and focus our time and resources on more rational responses to violent crime.”
“The death penalty is expensive, unfair, disproportionate — and it doesn’t work,” Ferguson said in a state Attorney General’s Office news release . “More than a third of all U.S. states have abolished the death penalty. Washington should join them.”
Among those who testified in favor of eliminating the death penalty were Teresa Mathis and Nemesio Domingo, who both lost brothers to murder. Mathis spoke of another case prosecuted at the same time as her brother’s where the death penalty was sought, and how it sapped resources away from her brother’s murder case.
Domingo told lawmakers he is satisfied that his brother’s killers “have spent two-thirds of their lives in prison, and will take their last breaths in prison.”
According to a Seattle University study, seeking the death penalty, on average, costs taxpayers about $1 million more than an aggravated murder case where capital punishment is not sought. That added cost contributes to the concentration of capital cases in counties that have the resources to pursue the death penalty, an inequity also pointed out by Gov. Jay Inslee when he announced a moratorium on executions in Washington in 2014.
There are eight inmates on death row in Washington state.
The 2018 Senate bill, SB 6052, is sponsored by Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla. Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, is sponsoring the House version, HB 1935, for a second year.
“Life in prison without parole seems a more reasonable approach than the death penalty,” Sen. Walsh said. “The appeals process in death penalty cases costs taxpayers upwards of $1 million more than cases in which the death penalty is not sought. Victims’ families are often dragged through legal proceedings numerous times, and that seems cruel. Our system is broken, and is not working in the way this legislation intended in 1981. This is an emotional and divisive subject, and I believe it is incumbent upon legislators to continue to debate this issue.”
“There is nothing just nor swift about the death penalty,” Rep. Orwall said. “It is an archaic tool that allows the state to collectively and arbitrarily end a life.”