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Governor defends reprieve of death row inmate, calls penalty ‘unfair to taxpayers’

File photo (Mike Simons/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA —  Governor Jay Inslee has called on state lawmakers to abolish the death penalty once and for all, calling it an “archaic” punishment that does nothing to reduce crime and costs taxpayers millions of dollars.

Eight men remain on Washington state’s death row after a ninth died Sunday when he went into cardiac arrest while being treated for an existing medical condition, the Washington Department of Corrections said.

Dwayne A. Woods, 46, passed away while under in-patient observation at the Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, Wash. He had been on death row since 1997 for the aggravated murders of Telisha Shaver, 22, and Jade Moore, 18.

Woods’ death came just days after Governor Inslee quietly granted a reprieve for another death row inmate – Clark Richard Elmore.

Elmore, 65, has been on death row since 1995 for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Christy Onstad in Bellingham. Onstad was the daughter of Elmore’s live-in girlfriend.

In an interview Wednesday on “Q13 News This Morning,” Inslee defended his reprieve of Elmore and once again urged lawmakers in the state to change the law and put an end to capital punishment for good.

“It costs millions and millions of dollars. It is inequitably applied because it is not applied in the vast majority of the state of Washington … because counties can’t afford to prosecute people,” he said, referring to the cost of capital cases. “So it's an archaic thing that needs to be changed and I’ve taken a position to respect what I believe is fairness in our system and justice for taxpayers.”

In 2014, Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty, which prevents future inmates sent to death row from being executed while he is in office. Meanwhile, with capital punishment still on the books in Washington, some prosecutors continue to pursue capital cases – often spending millions of dollars to fight for a punishment that may never be carried out.

“The moratorium that Governor Inslee announced several years ago and the reprieve that he announced last week, they don’t change the law and they don’t change the sentences for the individuals involved,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said Wednesday.

“It just, basically, kicks the can down the road for the next governor or governors who might have a different view. So, all the things that have been complained about – that it’s too slow, too expense – are actually made worse by the moratorium. It actually takes longer now because we know for the next four years we’re not going to be able to carry out any sentences.”

In 2015, Satterberg, on behalf of The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, called on lawmakers to send a death penalty referendum to voters.

“I think we want to know before we go down this road of capital ligation, which can take 20 years from the time a person is convicted to the time they’re executed, is we want to know whether we have the public support to do it,” Satterberg told Q13 News.

Governor Inslee disagrees. He hopes lawmakers will handle the issue on their own.

“What I would suggest is that the legislature change the law,” he said. “It would bring clarity to it and that would be the best way to deal with this.”