Washington Supreme Court rules death penalty invalid

October 11, 2018

The Washington Supreme Court overturned the state’s death penalty Thursday, ruling the way it was being carried out was arbitrary and racially biased and no longer served any penological purpose.

Washington becomes the 20th state to outlaw executions, the American Civil Liberties Union said. The unanimous court commuted every death sentence to life imprisonment.

The justices said part of the problem is the lack of use of the death penalty, pointing to a governor’s moratorium on carrying out any executions and most local district attorneys’ reticence in pursuing the death penalty.

Since 2000, only two counties had imposed death on an inmate and there’s only been five executions since 1987. That last came in 2010, for a crime committed in 1991.

And the justices said black defendants were more than four times as likely to receive the death penalty as white defendants in the same situations.

“Given the evidence before this court and our judicial notice of implicit and overt racial bias against black defendants in this state, we are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance,” the court ruled.

The case before the justices involved Allen Eugene Gregory, who was convicted of murdering a woman. Police caught him while investigating him for an alleged rape two years later, matching his blood to the sample taken from the first crime scene. He was convicted in 2001 of first degree murder, and the same jury sentenced him to death.

In his argument to the state Supreme Court, he said similar cases involving other defendants didn’t result in the death penalty, making its application arbitrary.

He also asked the justices to review his original conviction.

The court on Thursday refused that second request, but did agree with his argument that the extreme punishment was arbitrarily applied.

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