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Washington lawmaker wants to keep death penalty after sister's murder by Green River Killer

The sister of Washington state Rep. Jenny Graham was murdered by Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, in 1982.

OLYMPIA, Wash — Washington state Representative Jenny Graham feels like her sister is with her every day she is in Olympia.

“Her Bible is with me on the House floor,” said Graham (R-Spokane). “I took my oath with that Bible.”

Graham is prepared to tell her sister’s story on the House floor if the bill to eliminate the death penalty comes up for debate. She opposes the effort to abolish capital punishment in Washington state. 

In 1982, her sister Debbie Estes was strangled by the Green River Killer, decades later identified as Gary Ridgway.

Physical evidence linked Ridgway to the crime, but he helped investigators link him to dozens of other murders, in a plea bargain.

He also took detectives to where he disposed of their remains.

That cooperation got prosecutors to sentence Ridgway with life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty.

“Families would not have had the answers, those loved ones would not have had their remains returned. Those are his trophies and he did not want to give them up. He gave them up to save his own life,” said Graham.

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On the other side, Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) is sponsoring the bill to eliminate capital punishment in Washington, but acknowledges it's an emotional issue. 

“I think every one of us are so deeply moved by Rep. Graham’s story,” said Carlyle.

He said prosecutors have backed his bill, which passed out of the Senate last week.

Carlyle said there’s a “very high possibility” it will pass out of the House.

Governor Jay Inslee supports legislation to end the death penalty.

He implemented a moratorium on it in 2014.

Speaker of the House Rep. Laurie Jinkins said it’s not clear if there are enough votes to pass it in the House.

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