By Brynn Smith, WCADP Outreach Coordinator
On March 6th, Washington’s House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on HB 1504, legislation that would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bill sponsor Rep. Maureen Walsh (R – Walla Walla) began by reading a moving statement from former Governor Dan Evans urging lawmakers to repeal Washington’s death penalty. “I urge this legislature to substitute ‘life in prison without parole’ for the death penalty. It would place us with those civilized nations and states who have chosen reason over the satisfaction of revenge,” Evans said in a written statement.
Judy Kerr testified to the harm that the death penalty inflicts on surviving family members. “When my brother Robert Kerr was murdered in 2003 I expected justice. I expected it to be swift and I expected it to be certain…Why was my brother’s murder any less important than any other murder? Why were there not enough resources to handle all the cases? The system right now isn’t responsive to the needs of the victims of cold cases. It’s not responsive to the needs of many victims of violent crimes. Replacing the death penalty with life without parole is the alternative that makes sense for public safety, for victims, and for survivors.”
Law enforcement leaders stated that the death penalty was ineffective in deterring violent crime. “I believe an execution does absolutely nothing to enhance public safety, a view shared by most of my colleagues,” said Norm Stamper, former Seattle police chief. WCADP Board Member Dick Morgan stated, “Often people believe that death row inmates are substantially different from other inmates in prison, that they are more dangerous and desperate than others. With my 35 years in the business, as a three-time warden and once a director, I can assure you this is not the case. There is no distinction of difference between inmates who are sentenced to death and those whose crimes are similar other than the sentence itself.”
Twenty individuals subsequently testified in favor of repeal, including victims’ family members, law enforcement officers, faith leaders, and members of the public. The hearing concluded before the full list of testifiers was exhausted. No one signed up to testify against the bill.
Although HB 1504/SB 5372 was not voted out of Committee this year, the Safe and Just Alternatives campaign successfully raised the profile of the issue in Olympia and effectively educated legislators and the public about the failures of the death penalty. The March 6 hearing and our press conference received extensive coverage on local TV, radio and in papers across the state. We hope you will join us next year in Olympia when it comes time to speak out against the death penalty in Washington!