Calling capital punishment costly and ineffective, Mayor Ed Murray, all nine Seattle City Council members and City Attorney Pete Holmes have signed a letter urging the Seattle delegation to the state Legislature to pursue “safe and just alternatives” to the death penalty.
“There is no credible evidence showing that the death penalty deters homicide or makes our communities safer,” the letter says. “Instead, pursuing capital punishment diverts precious resources from critical public safety programs, delays final resolution for victims’ families and has serious implications for racial and social equity.”
Council President Tim Burgess outlined the letter, dated Jan. 26, at the council’s Monday morning briefing.
“There’s a false promise around the death penalty,” said Burgess, who spearheaded the letter.
Capital punishment is neither swift nor sure, he said, referring to long legal delays.
“I think there is a sense that the evidence against the death penalty is mounting,” Burgess said afterward, citing Gov. Jay Inslee’s personal moratorium last year on signing any death warrants while he is governor.
The letter came the same day as lawmakers in the state House introduced a measure to abolish the death penalty, an effort that has failed in Washington state in previous years but which supporters hope will gain traction following Inslee’s decision, The Associated Press reported.
The bipartisan bill, introduced Monday by Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle, would replace the death penalty with a life sentence with no opportunity for parole, The Associated Press reported. House Bill 1739 would also require those convicted to pay restitution to victims and their families.
The death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government and 32 states, including Washington and Oregon. However, the governors in both Oregon and Washington have said no one would be executed during their time in office, The Associated Press reported. Eighteen states have abolished the death penalty, with Maryland being the most recent.
The Seattle leaders cited those 18 states, saying they abolished the death penalty for the same overall reasons cited in their letter.
“Now it is time for the Legislature to take up this conversation,” the letter says, noting that of the nine current inmates on death row in Washington an average of 17 years has passed since they committed their crimes.
Historically, appeals have led the majority of death sentences in Washington to be reversed and converted to life without parole at cost of millions of dollars and years or decades of uncertainty for the victims’ families, the letter says.
Further, the letter says, the death penalty raises the specter of executing an innocent person. Nationwide, there have been 150 cases where death-row inmates have been exonerated as scientific investigative techniques improve, the letter says.
The letter also points to recent research suggesting the death penalty is applied disproportionately, with juries 4.5 times more likely to impose capital punishment on a black defendant than similarly situated white defendants.
Singling out the impact on Seattle and King County taxpayers, the letter says the county’s costs have risen to more than $15 million to pursue the death penalty against two people accused of the slayings of six people in Carnation in 2007 and a man charged with the 2009 killing of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton. Trials are currently under way in King County for one of the Carnation defendants, Joseph McEnroe, and Brenton’s alleged killer, Christopher Monfort.
That money could be spent separately on high-quality preschool for 1,300 children, or a public-health program for 3,000 families with children from pregnancy to age 2, or hire 30 police officers for five years, Burgess said after the council briefing.
Those efforts prevent crime and keep the community safer, while the death penalty does not, Burgess said.