Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement of a de facto moratorium on the death penalty on Tuesday has been making waves through the state.
As a member of Congress, Inslee opposed efforts to repeal the death penalty. But he said he’s re-evaluated that position and concluded Washington’s death penalty is flawed and imperfect. Inslee said he decided on this approach after a months-long review that included a visit to Washington’s death chamber in Walla Walla.
Frank Holden of Pocatello, Idaho, has been grieving the death of his 12-year-old daughter for more than two decades. He’s been waiting nearly that long for her killer, Jonathan Lee Gentry, to be executed.
He thought that wait might finally be coming to an end. Then about 7 p.m. Monday night, he got a courtesy call from Governor Jay Inslee telling him about the moratorium.
“I told him I was very disappointed in him doing this and pretty much said there were no more words for us to be talking about,” Holden said.
Holden’s daughter Cassie was visiting her mother in Bremerton when she was bludgeoned to death by Gentry. Her father said the governor’s moratorium comes just as he thought an execution date was nearing.
“I think his decision has prolonged my agony, not shortened it," Holden said. "It’s reopened a lot of wounds.”
State Representative Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat who’s sponsored legislation to repeal the death penalty, praised the governor’s move.
“He has opened a legitimate conversation that gives the legislature the ability to not only bring legislation forward in the coming years in a very thoughtful way, but to step up to engage the public in that conversation,” he said.
The lead Republican on the House Judiciary Committee had a very different response. In a statement, Representative Jay Rodne said, “The governor’s decision is a distraction from the issues” and one that “prolongs closure” for the victims.
Meanwhile, prosecutors note the law hasn’t changed. If they get a new aggravated murder case, the death penalty is still an option, but all executions are now indefinitely halted.
Washington currently has nine inmates on death row. A reprieve does not convert the sentence to life without parole, and it is reversible. An inmate who gets a reprieve from Inslee could still have his death warrant signed by a future governor.
Inslee said he hopes his moratorium sparks a discussion about capital punishment in Washington.