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Gov. Inslee imposes moratorium on the Death Penalty

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Feb. 11 that he is imposing a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington state.

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Local News

Victims’ families to governor: We want death penalty in state

OLYMPIA — One by one, they stepped up to the microphones.

“My family deserves justice, we deserve to have closure,” said Jesse Ripley, daughter of Jane Hungerford, who was killed by Cecil Davis, now on Washington’s death row.


Families of victims slain in Washington state talk Wednesday about the governor’s moratorium on the death penalty. (Photo: KCPQ-TV/Seattle)

“They deserve what the court said they should get, and that’s death, done,” said Ed Oster, who lost his daughter, Sunny Oster, at the hands of Robert Yates, also on death row.

Several families of murder victims gathered in Olympia to say Gov. Jay Inslee’s  decision to suspend the death penalty is causing new pain for wounds that never truly healed.

“Maybe he has a misconception that these people on death row stole a car from us or something, but they didn’t,” said Oster. “They stole a part of us.”

The families say they were never consulted by the governor before he made his decision. Two weeks ago, Inslee told reporters he had studied the issue of capital punishment and found too many problems in the system.

“There have been too many doubts raised,” said Inslee on Feb 11. “There are too many flaws in this system today.”

State Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, believes the governor is abusing his power. He’s sponsoring a bill that would require the governor to hear from a clemency board on each individual death row case.

Many of the victims families testified in favor of his bill, including Sherry Shaver, whose daughter Talisha, was killed by Dwayne Woods 18 years ago.

Shaver said her daughter was just 22 when she was murdered. At the time, she was following a dream of becoming a professional golfer, and also teaching the sport to young people.

The governor’s moratorium on the death penalty will last as long as he is in office. Shaver doesn’t want to wait another minute to see her daughter’s killer executed.

“How much longer do we have to wait for justice?”

Local News

Governor announces moratorium on executions

SEATTLE — When 55-year-old Byron Scherf killed corrections officer Jayme Biendl at the Monroe Correctional Facility in January 2011, he was already a three-strike felon, serving life without the possibility of parole for crimes including multiple rapes and kidnapping.

DEATHSo once he was convicted, Biendl’s family began looking forward to his execution.

“I’ve been waiting 837 days exactly to hear those words that he’s got the death penalty and I’m going to continue to count until he’s finally dead,” Jayme Biendl’s sister, Lisa Hamm, said.

That count got indefinitely longer Tuesday when Gov. Jay Inslee announced a moratorium on executions in Washington.

“There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment. There are too many flaws in the system and when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system and in accordance with state law, I have decided to impose a moratorium on executions while I’m Governor of the state of Washington,” Inslee said.

Inslee said equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility and the use of the death penalty here is inconsistent and unequal.

Before making the decision, Inslee said, he and his staff conducted a review and went inside the state prison in Walla Walla, where currently nine convicts sit on death row.

“We thoroughly studied the cases that condemned nine men to death. I went to the state pen at Walla Walla. I spoke to the men and women who work there. I saw death row and toured the execution chamber, where lethal injections and hangings take place,” Inslee said

But Inslee insists his decision has nothing to do with the nine people currently sentenced to die.

“I don’t question their guilt or the gravity of their crimes. They get no mercy from me. This action today does not commute their sentences or issue any pardons to any offender,” Inslee said.

No punishment can bring Biendl back, but for her family — and others — full implementation of a sentence can be the final step to closure.

Seventy-eight people have been executed in the state of Washington since capital punishment began here in 1904.

The overwhelming majority was white and the state has never executed a woman.

Local News

Who’s on Washington’s Death Row?

OLYMPIA — Washington state currently has nine people on Death Row at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. But Gov. Inslee announced Tuesday those on Death Row would be issued a stay of execution as long as he remains governor, citing both ethical and legal reasons.

By law, each of these nine Death Row inmates would be put to death from lethal injection, unless they chose to be hanged.

Washington has executed 78 persons since 1904, none of which have been women.

Below is a list of inmates on Death Row, and the crimes they were convicted of.

1. JONATHAN LEE GENTRY convicted June 26, 1991 of fatally bludgeoning Cassie Holden, 12, on June 13, 1988 in Kitsap County.

2. CLARK RICHARD ELMORE convicted on July 6, 1995 of one count of aggravated first degree murder and one count of rape in the second degree for the rape and murder of Christy Onstad, 14, the daughter of his live-in girlfriend on April 17, 1995 in Whatcom County.

3. DWAYNE A. WOODS convicted on June 20, 1997 of two counts of aggravated first degree murder for the murders of Telisha Shaver, 22, and Jade Moore, 18, on April 27, 1996 in Spokane County.

4. CECIL EMILE DAVIS convicted February 6, 1998 of one count of aggravated first degree murder for the suffocation/asphyxiation murder of Yoshiko Couch, 65, with a poisonous substance after burglarizing her home, robbing and then raping her January 25, 1997 in Pierce County.

5. DAYVA MICHAEL CROSS convicted June 22, 2001 for the stabbing deaths of his wife Anouchka Baldwin, 37, and stepdaughters Amanda Baldwin, 15, and Salome Holle, 18 in King County on March 6, 1999.


Robert Lee Yates

6. ROBERT LEE YATES JR. convicted September 19, 2002 of murdering Melinda Mercer, 24, in 1997 and Connie LaFontaine Ellis, 35, in 1998 in Pierce County.

7. CONNER MICHAEL SCHIERMAN convicted April 12, 2010 of four counts of aggravated first degree murder in the deaths of Olga Milkin, 28; her sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24, July 16, 2006 in King County.

8. ALLEN EUGENE GREGORY reconvicted May 15, 2012 of first-degree aggravated murder for the rape and murder of 43-year-old Geneine “Genie” Harshfield on July 26, 1996 in Pierce County. Originally convicted and sentenced to death on May 25, 2001, Gregory’s case was overturned by the Washington Supreme Court on November 30, 2006. The original charge was upheld in a retrial and the death sentence was reissued on June 13, 2012.

9. BYRON SCHERF convicted May 9, 2013 of aggravated first-degree murder for the murder of Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl on Jan. 29, 2011 while she was on duty at the Washington State Reformatory Unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that he is imposing a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington state.

Inslee announced the moratorium on capital punishment in a press conference. He said the nine people currently on death row will be issued a reprieve, if such action comes to his desk. A reprieve does not commute the sentences of those on death row or issue any pardons, Inslee said.

insleeThe governor cited RCW 10.01.120 in giving the Office of the Governor the authority to halt death warrants.  He said his decision comes after months of “careful review,” and is an executive action not needed to be complementary to any legislative action. Previous bills to halt the death penalty have stalled.

Inslee said it is clear to him that use of capital punishment is inconsistent and unequal, and it’s time to have a conversation about ensuring equal justice under the law.

“Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served,” Inslee said. “The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.”

Inslee said the majority of Washington’s death penalty sentences are overturned, and those convicted of a capital offense are rarely executed. Since 1981, 32 defendants have been sentenced to die. Eighteen of those had their sentences converted to life in prison and one was set free.

Only five individuals have been executed in Washington state since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Only men were executed.

Two men are on death row in King County. The likely next person to be executed would have been Jonathan Lee Gentry. Gentry was convicted of killing a 12-year-old girl in 1988.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a statement Tuesday, saying that the governor does have the authority to put a “pause” on executions.

Inslee said the cost of the death penalty and its multiple appeals is also too high for the state to bear in a time of budgetary restrictions.

“It’s frankly vastly cheaper to put people in jail for life,” Inslee said. “It doesn’t answer to the needs of the state.”

The governor said it was unfair for family members to watch ongoing court battles that last decades in death penalty cases, dredging up feelings of loss again and again.

“I’ve talked to more family members who said there was more grief in the constant uncertainty of the death penalty,” he said.

However, some family members of victims would still like to see the death penalty, and he understands that desire. He said he talked to one family member of a victim yesterday who said he was disappointed in the moratorium, but understood Inslee’s decision.

But the reprieves should, and do not mean mercy for criminals, Inslee reiterated.

“They get no mercy from me.”

Inslee previously supported capital punishment, but said his time as governor has changed his decision.

The ACLU issued a statement following Inslee’s announcement, saying the his actions were a “courageous act of leadership.”

“Who receives the death penalty depends more on geography and economic means than anything else,” Kathllen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU-Wa, said. “The ACLU congratulates the Governor and looks forward to working with the Legislature.”

More: Who is on Death Row?