Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he thought long and hard about imposing a moratorium on the state’s death penalty. Inslee told “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller that the temporary halt in executions came only after an examination of the entire justice system in Washington state.
“The state could not continue to administer unequal justice with such extreme costs, with no deterrence of crime, and a very high failure rate of our prosecutions,” Inslee said. “We’ve had 75 percent of our capital punishment sentences overturned.”
In 2011, then-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said he hoped the moratorium he imposed would spark a public dialogue around the issue, something he told Think Out Loud has not happened. Inslee told OPB that he believes the issue has gotten a lot of attention, at least in his own office.
“I have made this very clear,” Inslee said, “that I believe the legislature should move on this subject, that it should change these capital cases to life in prison, to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and I’ve urged them to do so as recently as a week or two ago,” he said.
"Think Out Loud" conversations about capital punishment in Oregon
Inslee acknowledged he used to be in favor of capital punishment. But he says it’s different as governor.
“I’m responsible for administration of justice,” he said. “And what I found in the real world is that we have a very flawed system of justice in our state, which has incredibly unequal results.”
Twenty-nine of the 39 counties in Washington state are not currently asking for the death penalty in capitol cases because they can’t afford it, according to Inslee.
“It doesn’t matter who the prosecutor is: it’s off the table. So you basically have … a handful of counties that are executing citizens of this state for the same crime, where in the majority — and it is the majority of these counties — we use life in prison without a possibility of parole,” he said.
The moratorium was enacted in 2014, but just this past December, Inslee was confronted with the first death row inmate who had exhausted his appeals. Inslee chose to grant a reprieve of Clark Richard Elmore’s death sentence. In 1995 Elmore had raped the 14-year-old daughter of his girlfriend, drove a piece of metal through her head and crushed her skull. Inslee said he spoke with a number of parties involved in the homicide case before granting Elmore’s reprieve.
“I talked to the prosecuting attorney about this, who prosecuted the case … I talked to him; I talked to a family member. They had diverse viewpoints. And the prosecutor wanted the death penalty even after 20 years of appeals; the family member I spoke to did not think that was something that she wanted.”
Inslee says he’s hopeful Washington state lawmakers will pass a repeal to the death penalty, but in the meantime, some counties are taking the matter into their own hands.
In Seattle’s King County, “they’re no longer bringing the death penalty,” Inslee said. “This is a county that could actually afford it, but the prosecuting attorney there declined to seek a death penalty in a vicious, multiple-victim murder.”
Inslee says Washingtonians believe in making policy that is based on evidence — something he says is especially needed in the criminal justice system. “We need to spend more time listening to the the evidence of reality,” Inslee said, “rather than just making emotional decisions. And I think that is the case in the death penalty.”