Washington state should not abolish the death penalty

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On my first day as a Kitsap County deputy prosecutor, I took an oath to support and defend Washington’s Constitution and laws. While the words seemed important at the time, their true gravity struck me two years later when I was assigned to prosecute Jonathan Gentry for raping and murdering 12-year-old Cassie Holden.

Gentry will be first to receive Gov. Jay Inslee’s misguided mercy under the death penalty moratorium he announced Feb. 11 Gentry had been expected to be put to death this year.

Cassie was abducted from a path, dragged through the woods, sexually assaulted and beaten to death with a rock. She was struck so many times, and with such ferocity, that the county medical examiner was unable to determine the number or sequence of the blows. In the minutes before Gentry decided her life was his to take, Cassie had been picking flowers for her mother.

Twelve impartial jurors took an oath to apply the facts to the law and then render a just verdict. In June 1991, they convicted Gentry and sentenced him to death.

Jurors told me two things after the trial. One, it was the hardest decision of their lives. Two, they made the difficult decision because the facts and law required it, and they had taken oaths to follow the law no matter how hard it might be. They did their jobs and honored their oaths.

Cassie’s father, Frank Holden, also took an oath before testifying. When he testified in the trial’s penalty phase, he told the jury about Cassie’s hopes and dreams — that she wanted to be an author and have twins. A little girl’s dreams, her dad acknowledged, but hers to have. He did his job and honored his oath.

In the past 23 years, numerous judges have scrutinized Gentry’s conviction and affirmed it. They include a majority of our state Supreme Court justices on three separate occasions, the federal District Court, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court when it declined to accept review. All the judges tasked with reviewing Gentry’s case did their jobs — they followed their oaths.

Gov. Inslee did not issue his moratorium because anyone on death row is innocent. Nor could he. In Gentry’s case, even an additional DNA analysis performed post-conviction at Gentry’s request implicated him in Cassie’s death, essentially excluding every other human on earth. Such is the power of DNA to exonerate or convict.

Gov. Inslee, on the other hand, conducted a “months-long” review to reach his own conclusion that the death penalty was not evenly applied. Had he spent more time studying the death penalty process in Washington, his concern might have been allayed by understanding our state Supreme Court’s unique proportionality review of all death sentences.

In conducting this review, our state’s highest court analyzes every death penalty verdict against all other aggravated murder cases ever filed in this state to determine if the sentence of death is proportionate or fair.

In concluding that Gentry’s death sentence “was not excessive or disproportionate,” the state Supreme Court found that his crime “was particularly brutal and spanned a long period of time” and that “the child suffered substantial pain and terror before her death.”

The majority of justices also considered it important that “Gentry had been convicted of a prior violent felony which had resulted in the victim’s death (and) that shortly before this murder Gentry had raped a teenage girl at knife point.” Our Supreme Court justices carefully considered every argument for overturning the jury’s sentence, and rejected them.

When he was inaugurated, Gov. Inslee took an oath to uphold and defend Washington’s Constitution and laws. Our state Constitution includes a crime victims’ bill of rights, intended to afford crime victims a voice in our criminal-justice system. The governor’s decision is very troubling. That it came at the expense of violent crime victims like Cassie and her father is heartbreaking.

Brian Moran is an attorney in Seattle. He previously served as chief deputy for the Washington state attorney general and deputy prosecutor in Kitsap County.

Comments

namvet60 5 months, 2 weeks ago

It would be totally astonishing if these politicians followed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This goes from the Governor straight up through the President.

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downhillracer 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Almost as astonishing if local gad-flys were to suddenly actually understand what that means - because it's certainly not what they imply.

It's very clear the local crop of "constitutionalists" have not a clue as to what they're talking about, they simply regurgitate what is heard on talk radio shows that are dumbed-down for their benefit.

The governor is acting wholly within his legal construct. Period.

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PearlY 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The statute requires that the governor grant reprieves "for good cause." As Mr. Moran points out, Inslee's stated cause of "disproportionality" has already been ruled on by our Supreme Court in the case of Gentry and found to be baseless.

Sadly, the only remedy for Inslee's abuse of the statute may be to amend it to limit the governor's authority. Someday, that theoretically might result in the execution of someone who DOES deserve a reprieve. That person will have no one but Jay Inslee to blame.

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downhillracer 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Better solution: join the rest of the civilized world and end the barbaric practice of state-sponsored killing, once and for all.

That "theoretically' has already occurred, many times. You might want to research the "Innocence Project".

PearlY: obviously not a lawyer.

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PearlY 5 months, 2 weeks ago

How exactly would being uncivilized and barbaric disqualify me from being a lawyer?

You might research "The Innocence Project" yourself. It cites 18 people who were sentenced to death and then exonerated. The Death Penalty Information Center cites even more (using a much looser definition of "exonerated"). BUT NOT ONE WAS EXECUTED. If you have any data that, in the 35 years since the re-introduction of the death penalty, there has been a single innocent person executed, much less many, let those organizations know and they will shout it from the rooftops.

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downhillracer 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Carlos DeLuna was put to death in December 1989 for a murder in Corpus Christi, that he did not commit. That's just one. Perhaps you would not mind spending years on death row for a crime you did not commit.

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mwood 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Nice try, if you do not like someone's message or want to silence them, throw insults and lower yourself to name calling to diminish an opposing opinion. We are a land of laws with three branches for the purpose of maintaining checks and balances. Our president has decided he will do away with the legislative input, he will make laws and decide which laws matter. His Attorney General has informed the county of the laws he will not enforce. The Mayor of New York, same conduct. And now Washington State has a Governor now has jumped on the band wagon. Inslee has no respect for what Washingtonians believe is best for our state. The politicians have proven their extreme liberalism and will be forcing their ideals on to the public until removed from office. The people of Washington have had conversations about the death penalty, what a shame Governor Inslee will not participate in conversation.

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barracuda 5 months, 2 weeks ago

MWood.... RE: Downhiller.... She does not want to add to the conversation at all, she just wants to make sure NamVet does not contribute either!

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downhillracer 5 months, 2 weeks ago

"She"? Time to check your internet gossip sources along with your eyeglasses.

I'm all for constructive, intelligent discussion amongst adults. Vomiting ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims and waving ones arms for attention don't really count.

I reiterate: the Governor is operating fully within his jurisdiction, and has the support of many. One day, hopefully soon, the Supreme Court will once again ban capital punishment.

It would be useful if those with opposing views would share the source of their facts, versus broad commentary like "they need to follow the Constitution".

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namvet60 5 months, 2 weeks ago

He - She - who cares - your still immaterial and immature.

You keep regurgitating these comments that escapes your scope of intelligence as a citizen of the US of A.

If you would post your address, I will send you a copy of the "U.S. Constitution" so that you won't confuse yourself with your homespun knowledge from MSNBC and make yourself look like the dunce that you are.

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downhillracer 5 months, 2 weeks ago

A) Your expression of ranting and name calling reveals a great deal about your character. B) I have a very solid understanding of the Constitution and its function, not the made-up rantings of an old and lonely man, but thanks anyway. C) It's known as the "Constitution of the United States". I've had a copy hanging in my den for over 40 years. D) If you have reasonable discourse to share, please, proceed. This time with facts, please.

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namvet60 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Pure drivel - no substance~!

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PearlY 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Downhillracer, Carlos Deluna has NOT been exonerated. Doubt has been raised about his conviction but that doesn't prove your claim that many innocent people have been executed. You demand facts and sources but don't provide them yourself.

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garddoug 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Byron Scherf was doing life without parole when he murdered the officer at Monroe. Do you suppose if Scherf has two lifes without parole it will keep him from murdering another

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PearlY 5 months, 1 week ago

Downhillracer, I challenged you to name one executed person who was proven innocent and you name one, Carlos DeLuna. He's listed by the anti-death penalty Death Penalty Information Center as one out of only 10 that they can name as "possibly innocent" since 1976 (38 years), out of 1,370 executed. Even if all 10 of those were innocent (most had very careful post-execution reviews and were still held guilty), it would be an error rate of 0.7%. Any error is tragic, but the flip side is: of those 1,370, how many would have killed again during a life in prison without fear of the death penalty? Ironically, being on death row with appeals and clemency petitions pending seems to be a strong motivator toward good behavior, but life sentences alone are not.

Here are 10 other names from the last 10 years:

Sgt. Ruben Thomas, 24, killed by Richard Franklin, who was already serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and armed robbery.

CO Eric Williams murdered by Jessie Con-ui, who was already serving a life sentence for an Arizona murder. Eric Holder has vowed to "punish" Con-ui. Funny guy, that Holder.

CO Donna Payant, 31, strangled by Lemuel Smith, who was already serving three consecutive life sentences for previous kidnappings and murders.

CO Jayme Biendl, 34, strangled by Byron Scherf, who was already serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for multiple rapes.

CO Larry Stell, stabbed to death by Caesar Rogers, who was already serving a life sentence plus five years for a 2008 murder.

Corporal Barbara Ester, stabbed to death by Latavious Johnson, who was already serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for murder.

CO Donna Fitzgerald, stabbed to death by Enoch Hall, who was already serving two life sentences plus 42 years for kidnapping, sexual assault and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

CO Jose Rivera, stabbed to death by Leon Guerrero, who was already serving a life sentence, and Joseph Sablan, who was already serving a life sentence for murder and attempted murder.

CO Ronald Johnson, beaten to death with a lead pipe by Eric Robert who was serving an 80-year sentence for kidnapping and promised to kill again if he was not executed and by Rodney Berget, who was serving a life sentence for kidnapping and attempted murder.

CO Darla Lathrem, murdered by three inmates attempting escape, at least one of whom was serving a life sentence for a previous murder. Another inmate who refused to participate in the escape attempt was also murdered.

Besides these and other correctional officers, many inmates are murdered each year by other inmates serving life sentences. Those deceased inmates are being given death penalties without ANY due process. All of these deaths are tragedies, too, and could be prevented. Meanwhile, the rigorous standards of death sentences today are as close to error proof as human agency can accomplish.

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