A state senator wants to put the death penalty back on the table in Washington state.
Senator Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, proposed a bill to restore capital punishment as an option for inmates accused of killing someone while incarcerated.
In October 2018, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty violates the state's Constitution. The justices said the “death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” They ordered that people currently on death row have their sentences converted to life in prison.
"We leave open the possibility that the Legislature may enact a 'carefully drafted statute' to impose capital punishment in this state, but it cannot create a system that offends constitutional rights," the opinion said.
Wagoner's bill, SB 5364, would establish a death penalty review panel for incarcerated individuals who commit aggravated murder.
The review panel would be comprised of four prosecuting attorneys, the attorney general, and the secretary of the Department of Corrections.
“I know that this is a very divisive issue that many people feel very strongly about, but I believe there must be consequences for incarcerated individuals who commit murder,” Wagoner said. “This issue hits close to home as officer Biendl worked in my legislative district and I believe justice wasn’t served in this case.”
Wagoner has said his legislation is named in honor of the corrections officer killed by an inmate in 2011.
SB 5364 already has a handful of cosponsors in the Senate. However, last year the state Senate passed a bill to repeal the death penalty; an effort that was stalled in the state House.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty in 2014. Inslee said at the time that it was inconsistent and unequal.
Washington has executed 78 people since 1904, none of whom were women. Of those 78 executions, 66 were white.
The majority of executions were before 1975 when Washington reinstated the death penalty after Furman v. Georgia. Washington has executed five people in the last 25 years, the most recent of which was Cal Coburn Brown in 2010. Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman.