"UW study: Race a factor in imposing death penalty," is an AP report filed by Gene Johnson, via the Yakima Herald.
Two years ago, when Washington’s Supreme Court was reviewing the death sentence assigned to a black man accused of raping and murdering a 65-year-old woman, Justice Charles Wiggins found himself troubled by numbers.
Juries in the state were more likely to sentence African Americans, Wiggins noted; they did so in 62 percent of cases involving black defendants versus 40 percent for white defendants. In a dissenting opinion, the justice suggested further study was needed to determine whether the trend was statistically significant.
A new report from a University of Washington sociologist aims to answer the question. It finds that while prosecutors have actually been slightly more likely to seek the death penalty against white defendants, jurors have been three times more likely to impose it against black ones, other circumstances being similar.
Expense, differences in application by county, and the high rate of overturned death sentences — rather than racial disparities — were the main reasons Gov. Jay Inslee cited this month when he announced a moratorium on executions under his watch. But if true, the report’s findings echo his worry that capital punsihment is “unequally applied,” even in Washington, a state many consider to have the nation’s most restrictive death-penalty system.
The report, by Professor Katherine Beckett, was commissioned by Lila Silverstein and Neil Fox, attorneys for death row inmate Allen Eugene Gregory, a black man convicted of raping and murdering a white woman in Pierce County in 1996. Silverstein and Fox plan to submit the report to the high court as part of Gregory’s appeal next month.
Washington has executed five defendants under its modern death penalty law, adopted in 1981, and nine are on death row. Beckett reviewed the 285 cases involving adult defendants convicted of aggravated murder since 1981 for which trial reports are available. In 88 of those cases, the death penalty was sought, and in 35 of those, it was imposed. Many later had the sentences overturned.
The Role of Race in Washington State Capital Sentencing, 1981-2012 by Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans of the University of Washington is available courtesy of Professor Beckett.
"Smart Bombs: Death penalty slumber disrupted," is Gary Crooks' latest column in the Spokesman-Review.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s moratorium on executions has sparked a strong reaction from legislative proponents of capital punishment. The key word is “reaction,” because that’s the only action ever seen on this issue.
The political contretemps remind me of a child with a long neglected toy. All is quiet until a sibling is seen playing with it. Then, suddenly, it’s the most fiercely defended possession in the house.
Hate to break the news to death penalty advocates, but sympathetic lawmakers haven’t done much over the years to boost executions, unless you count grandstanding and press releases. The state has killed five people since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1981.
The Seattle Times publishes opposing view OpEds under the heading, "Should Washington state abolish the death penalty?"
"It's wrong for the state to take a life," is by Eldon Vail and Dick Morgan. Vail is a retired Secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, and Morgan retired as the state's Director of Prisons; both men participated in executions.
"Consider the victims and their families," is by Brian Moran, a former prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General in Washington.
Earlier coverage of the Washington Moratorium begins at the link.