State prosecutors say they’ll ask lawmakers to send a death-penalty referendum to voters next year.
OLYMPIA — State prosecutors say they’ll ask lawmakers to send a death-penalty referendum to voters next year.
The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys issued a statement Thursday saying prosecutors “overwhelmingly believe that the people of the state should vote on the question of whether the state should retain the death penalty as an option in cases of aggravated murder.”
The death penalty has been on hold in Washington state since last year, when Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium for as long as he’s in office. Nine men are now on death row in Washington state.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said a public vote would tell prosecutors “one way or the other” how Washingtonians feel about the death penalty.
The impetus for the prosecutors’ action, according to an email from Tom McBride, executive secretary of the association, were the jury decisions in the murder cases involving the killings of a Carnation family in 2007 and a Seattle police officer in 2009.
In the Carnation case, Michele Anderson is accused of joining her then-boyfriend Joseph McEnroe in killing six members of her family. McEnroe was convicted of participating in the killings and sentenced in May to life in prison after the jury could not agree on the death penalty.
In July, Satterberg said his office would not seek the death penalty against Anderson, an announcement made after Christopher Monfort was sentenced to life in prison for killing Officer Timothy Brenton.
The lack of pending death-penalty cases provides “a window where we don’t have to think through” immediate impacts, McBride said in his email, noting that the group’s Thursday statement had almost “unanimous support from elected prosecuting attorneys who both support and oppose the death penalty.”
Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said the prosecutors’ statement is a “really important and momentous step forward” in public conversation over the law.
But Carlyle, who has sponsored bills to ban the death penalty, said he believes any change should come from the Legislature. There’s a lot of complexity surrounding a change in the law, he said, and a public referendum would spur an expensive and difficult campaign.
Carlyle added he plans to again sponsor a bill to end the death penalty in the next legislative session, which starts in January.
Death-penalty cases in Washington are still being tried and continue to work through the system. Inslee’s moratorium means that if a death-penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which means the inmate would stay in prison rather than face execution.
In response to the prosecutors’ Thursday statement, Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Inslee, called the death-penalty debate an important one. She added that “The governor made clear his reasons for enacting a moratorium and his support for a discussion among legislators and the people.”
Since 1981, most death-penalty sentences in Washington have been overturned and executions rare, according to the prepared remarks of Inslee’s 2014 moratorium announcement.
“When the majority of death-penalty sentences lead to reversal,” Inslee said in the remarks, “the entire system itself must be called into question.”
The death penalty is allowed in 31 states, as well as by the federal government and the U.S. military, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Since 2009, five states — New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland and Nebraska — have abolished it.
In a national Gallup poll in October, 61 percent of U.S. adults said they favored the death penalty.
The number continues a gradual decline in support since a high of 80 percent in 1994, according to the poll findings.