Governor Jay Inslee of Washington issued a reprieve to all death row prisoners in the state, suspending the use of the death penalty.
Inslee says that the use of the death penalty is inconsistent and unequal. “Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility,” the governor said in a written statement. “And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served. The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.”
However, some believe that death row case suspects are enjoying a renaissance in public legal defense. According to Joshua Marquis, JD, death row murder suspects are now empowered with excellent, free legal defense and are not as likely to be railroaded by high-powered private attorneys as they once were:
The reality in the 21st century is startlingly different… the past few decades have seen the establishment of public defender systems that in many cases rival some of the best lawyers retained privately… Many giant silk-stocking law firms in large cities across America not only provide pro-bono counsel in capital cases, but also offer partnerships to lawyers whose sole job is to promote indigent capital defense.
Inslee’s freeze on executions isn’t a pardon and doesn’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death.
At the moment, nine men await execution at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
In January, death row inmate Jonathan Lee Gentry had a “petition for release from death row” rejected by Washington’s State Supreme Court. Gentry was imprisoned for the brutal murder and sexual assault of a 12-year old girl in 1988. If the Governor’s reprieve is lifted, Gentry’s could be the first execution in the state since 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman.