The Death Penalty in the State of Washington

The Walla-Walla Union Bulletin is focusing on the state’s death penalty in a 4-part series entitled, “Executing Justice.” The series examines issues such as the costs of the death penalty, arbitrariness, and the appeals process. Washington currently has eight men on death row, and has not had an execution since 2001. In almost 30 years, there has been only one non-consensual execution. Four defendants have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1981, but three of the four defendants waived their appeals. The paper cites a Washington State Bar Association report noting that of the 270 convictions for aggravated murder since 1981, the death penalty was sought 79 times, resulting in 30 death sentences. The majority of those cases were overturned on appeal, and most of those reversals resulted in life without parole sentences. The Bar Association estimates that a death penalty case costs $754,000 more than other murder cases, not including the $100,000 associated with preparing for an execution.

Two bills were introduced in the legislature in 2009 that would have abolished the death penalty. Excessive costs was one of the motivations behind these bills, neither of which were approved. Studies have also shown that application of the death penalty in Washington is skewed by georgraphy. Death sentences are sought and imposed more frequently in the state’s largest counties – King, Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane. The article reports that although 64% of Washington counties have had at least 1 death-eligible conviction, the majority of counties have never filed a death notice and 74% of Washington’s counties have never imposed a death sentence.

The series will discuss in greater depth the costs of trials, appeals and executions (November 9th), opponents and proponents of the death penalty (November 10th), and the history of the death penalty in the state (November 11th).

(T. McConn, “Death penalty hangs in the balance as debate heats up,” Walla-Walla Union Bulletin, November 8, 2009). See DPIC’s State-by-State Database and Studies.