Jay Inslee (David Ryder/Getty Images)
John Bacon, USA TODAY
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced a moratorium on the death penalty in the state, saying the use of capital punishment was inconsistent and unequal.
The Democrat said his decision came after months of research on current cases, discussions with prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and family members of homicide victims. He also said he toured death row and the execution chambers at Walla Walla State Penitentiary.
"Equal justice under the law is the state's primary responsibility," Inslee said. "I'm not convinced equal justice is being served."
Inslee said the use of the death penalty in Washington is sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.
The moratorium does not commute the sentences of those on death row or issue any pardons. But Inslee will grant reprieves so no one will be executed.
Since the state's current capital laws were put in place in 1981, 32 defendants have been sentenced to die. Of those, 18 had their sentences converted to life in prison. One was set free. The state's last execution was in September 2010, when Cal Brown was injected for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman.
Nine men currently reside on death row in Walla-Walla.
"I want to acknowledge that there are many good protections built into Washington state's death penalty law," Inslee said. "But there have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment. There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system."
Maryland abolished the death penalty in May, the sixth state to do so in the seven years.
Inslee said he did not question the guilt of the condemned criminals, nor the seriousness of their crimes.
"With my action today I expect Washington state will join a growing national conversation about capital punishment," he said. "I welcome that and I'm confident that our citizens will engage in this very important debate."