The Senate Judiciary Committee held a surprisingly uncontentious public hearing on Seattle Sen. Ed Murray's (D-43) anti-death penalty bill. Of the six people testifying at the hearing, four supported the bill, one had concerns but did not oppose it, and one was Sen. Murray. Obviously this is not to say there isn't strong opposition to the bill, but their voices weren't in Olympia today.
The bill would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Four people have been put to death in Washington since 1973 (when the death penalty was reinstated).
In his testimony, Sen. Murray said the death penalty is an ineffective deterrent, costly, racially unequal, and inaccurate. He provided the figure that "since 1973 over 130 people have been released from death row after an expensive appeals process revealed their innocence."
"The death penalty is inhumane. Do we really want to be aligned with those countries that have the death penalty--China, Iran, Saudi Arabia?" asked Sen. Murray.
Sarah Craft, State Campaign Organizer for Equal Justice USA, echoed Sen. Murray's sentiments in her testimony, highlighting the death penalty's ineffectiveness as a deterrent to crime.
Craft said, "The death penalty is a drain on precious crime fighting resources. Proven crime prevention programs are languishing in these hard economic times while the death penalty costs states millions of dollars more than cases seeking life sentences."
Craft also explained that the drawn out judicial process associated with capitol cases is detrimental to the victim's family, forcing them to revisit the crime and the pain over and over.
In addition to Craft, the hearing saw supporting testimony from Josephine Tamayo-Murray of the WA Catholic Conference, Jeff Ellis, director of WA Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and David Lord of Disability Rights Washington.
Lord spoke to the disproportionate number of mentally disabled prisoners on death row. "It's more likely for a person with a severe mental illness to end up on death row than the general population. The studies show that 5-10% of those on death row have a severe mental illness."
The hearing closed with testimony from Tom McBride of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. McBride said his association doesn't have a formal position on the death penalty. He instead took issue with the previous testimonies saying that the death penalty is unconstitutional, there are innocent people on death row in Washington, that the death penalty is applied by race in Washington.
"When you come up here and make a statement in support of a bill based on innocent people being executed and racial disproportionality you're implying that's what's occurred here," said McBride. "I'm aware that no system is perfect, but you need to be careful about applying that's the condition in Washington state and just discuss whether you want this bill or not."
Committee chair, Seattle Sen. Adam Kline (D-37) responded to McBride saying there isn't enough of a track record to make a case Washington has engaged in racial discrimination, yet.
"I think what many of the proponents of this bill are thinking is that we shouldn't put ourselves in the position to find out the hard way," Sen. Kline said.
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