|Governor Jay Inslee|
State prosecutors say they'll ask lawmakers to send a death penalty referendum to voters next year.
The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys issued a statement Thursday saying prosecutors "overwhelmingly believe that the people of the state should vote on the question of whether the state should retain the death penalty as an option in cases of aggravated murder."
Jim Nagle, Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney and an association board member, agrees.
"The public needs to advise the Legislature, the courts and the governor what needs to be done with these cases," he wrote today in an email to the Union-Bulletin.
Washington voters approved an initiative in 1975, re-establishing the death penalty here. But it's been on hold since last year, when Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium for as long as he's in office.
A previous death penalty law was ruled unconstitutional in 1972 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Thursday's statement, the prosecutors' association said, "Most of the people in the state of Washington today did not participate in the election 40 years ago that established our state as 1 of 31 U.S. states with the death penalty.
"The citizens of Nebraska will vote on the repeal or retention of the death penalty in that state next year. Washington State voters should have a similar choice."
The association's statement Thursday points out that since the current law was enacted, prosecutors have sought the death penalty in 90 of 268 most heinous murders in which it was a possible sentence. Jurors returned unanimous verdicts of death in 32 of those 90.
"The 32 death sentences that have been imposed under the current statute have resulted in the execution of 5 men, 3 of whom were 'volunteers' who instructed their attorneys to not pursue appeals of their convictions," the statement says.
Currently, 9 men are on death row in the state.
Executions are carried out at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The last execution was in 2010.
Under a previous death penalty law, the last execution of a Walla Walla County defendant was in 1939.
Death penalty cases in the state are still being tried and continue to work through the system. Inslee's moratorium means that if a death-penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which means the inmate would stay in prison rather than face execution.
The next legislative session begins in January.
Source: Associated Press, November 13, 2015