In 2014, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on executions while he is in office. This decree does not change the sentence for the men facing execution, nor is it a pardon. It means only that the men will remain in prison for the rest of their lives. Washington is one of three states with a formal moratorium on capital punishment, joining by Oregon (2011) and Colorado (2013).
Though Inslee admitted in announcing the moratorium that he had previously supported the death penalty, he said he was not convinced that “equal justice under the law” was being served.
“The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred,” Inslee said in remarks announcing the move.
The moratorium followed by just a few weeks the release of a study by University of Washington professor Katherine Beckett. In “The Role of Race in Washington State Capital Sentencing, 1981-2012,” she determined that juries were three times as likely to return a death sentence for black defendants as white defendants when situations were similar.
Nationally, the number of executions has dropped dramatically since 1998, when there were 98. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there were just 20 executions in 2016, the fewest since 1991. One hundred fifty-nine individuals have been exonerated while on death row nationwide since 1973. One took place in Washington. Benjamin Harris was convicted for a 1984 murder, but the charges were later dismissed after a judge determined his defense was incompetent.