IN the coming weeks, the Washington state Supreme Court is expected to issue a “certificate of finality” in the death-penalty case against Jonathan Gentry, ending more than two decades of appeals. That would put Washington on a clock to hold its first execution since 2010.
This week, Gov. Jay Inslee reiterated his intent to grant Gentry — and any other condemned prisoner whose death warrant reaches the governor’s desk — a reprieve. This ensures there will not be an execution while he is in office, and that Gentry stays in prison. A later governor could send Gentry to the execution chamber.
A reprieve remains a half-measure. There is a clear path forward. Inslee should lead an effort to abolish capital punishment.
Maintaining the death penalty continues to expose Washington state to the enormous costs associated with it, costs that do not make the state any safer. It leaves open the possibility — should a future governor take the opposite view — of the state making the heinous mistake of a wrongful execution.
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And it leaves prosecutors currently pursuing the death penalty — including Dan Satterberg in King County — a confusing set of choices. Should they continue to pursue the death penalty, often at a cost of millions of dollars per case, when it might not be enforced?
In February, The Seattle Times editorial board reversed its longstanding support for capital punishment.
Since then, a federal court halted the execution of a Texas inmate who has an IQ of 69, in consideration of the U. S. Supreme Court’s 2002 decision that people with intellectual disabilities be “categorically excluded from execution.” Oklahoma badly botched an execution by lethal injection. A rational, moral society should not even consider executing an intellectually disabled man, or allow death by torture. Washington does not belong in the dwindling number of states that entertain these fundamentally wrong acts.
The state’s death-penalty protocol calls for use of the same drug used in the botched Oklahoma execution: sodium thiopental. But the Department of Corrections has none of the drug on hand, and no clear way to get it because manufacturers decline to sell it for use in executions.
Inslee’s plan to grant Gentry a reprieve forestalls, for now, the logistical challenges of finding more of the drug. None will be needed until at least January 2017, when Inslee’s term expires.
There is a clearer, moral path forward. End the death penalty.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).