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Proposal would repeal death penalty in Washington

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — A bipartisan group of Washington state leaders announced proposed legislation to abolish the death penalty.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) made the announcement during a news conference in the state capitol Monday afternoon. He was joined by Governor Jay Inslee (D) and former Attorney General Rob McKenna (R).

“This issue transcends politics,” Ferguson said. “It is time for the legislature to take a vote.”

Inslee imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in 2014, but repeal bills introduced since that time have stalled in the Legislature.

“The bill we are proposing is straightforward,” Ferguson said. “It eliminates the death penalty in Washington state as a sentencing option for aggravated murder. It mandates instead a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

Last month, Inslee invoked the moratorium as he reprieved Clark Elmore, who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.

Reprieves aren’t pardons and don’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death. Under Inslee’s system, death-row inmates will remain in prison rather than face execution.

Elmore is the first of Washington’s death row inmates to exhaust his appeals since the moratorium was put in place. He remains at the state prison in Walla Walla, along with seven other death row inmates.

There have been 78 inmates, all men, put to death in Washington state since 1904. The last execution in the state came in September 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman. After spending nearly 17 years on death row, he was the first Washington inmate executed since 2001.

The death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government and 31 states, including Washington and Oregon, which also currently has a moratorium in place. Pennsylvania and Colorado also have death penalty moratoriums.

The death penalty has been overturned or abolished in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The latest was Delaware, whose Supreme Court last year declared the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional.