Death row inmate loses another appeal

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WALLA WALLA — The state’s longest-serving death row inmate has lost his latest court appeal.

The Washington Supreme Court Thursday rejected a petition by Jonathan Lee Gentry to overturn his conviction.

Gentry, 58, has been on death row at Washington State Penitentiary since 1991 after being convicted of killing a 12-year-old girl in Bremerton.

His latest appeal argued that a 2011 decision by the state Supreme Court should be applied to his case. That decision, State v. Monday, ruled that when a party shows prosecutorial misconduct based on racial bias, it is the state’s burden to show “harmlessness beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In his appeal, Gentry claimed the prosecution engaged in race-based misconduct in five instances during his trial that tainted his conviction. Gentry is black.

The court, however, ruled that the 2011 decision could not be retroactively applied to his 20-year-old case. Furthermore, even if Gentry’s claims were not procedurally barred, the court ruled they would still fail because he could not demonstrate prejudice that would merit an appeal.

“The one clear instance of race-based improper conduct on the part of the prosecution occurred outside the knowledge of the jury and could not have affected the outcome at trial,” the court said in its majority opinion.

Justice Charles Wiggins issued a partial dissent in the case.

Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, said Gentry’s stay of execution issued by the court will remain in effect until at least Feb. 12 unless a motion for reconsideration is filed.

A separate stay of execution in federal court has also not been officially vacated.

Gentry is one of nine people, all men, sentenced to die in Washington. All are held at the penitentiary, where executions are carried out.

The last execution in the state was Cal Coburn Brown, who was put to death by lethal injection in 2010 for the murder of 22-year old Holly Washa in Seatac.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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