Opinion: It’s time to abolish the death penalty

It’s been 15 years since Robert Yates, a 1970 graduate of Oak Harbor High School, was sent to death row.

The serial killer confessed to killing 13 people and was convicted of killing two additional women. Most of the murders occurred in Spokane County, but he also killed in Skagit, Walla Walla and Pierce counties.

It took more than a decade for Yates to exhaust his appeals, but then his execution date was indefinitely postponed after Gov. Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on executions. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently re-introduced a bill that would do away with the death penalty altogether. Lawmakers should pass the bill and clear up the uncertainty about the future of state executions.

There are many reasons why the death penalty should be abolished.

It’s unequally applied. Study after study has shown that people of color are more likely to get the death penalty than white defendants.

“Black people make up 13 percent of the population, but they make up 42 percent of death row and 35 percent of those executed,” the NAACP reports. “In addition, many studies have found the race of the victim to affect who receives the death penalty, with homicides of white victims more likely to result in the death penalty.”

It’s justice delayed.

Yates’ experience is typical. Death row inmates average about 15 years between conviction and execution. That means families of the victims have to wait through all those painful years to learn the final resolution of a case.

It’s expensive.

The taxpayers foot the bill for the costly death-penalty trials, the multi-million dollar appeals process as well as all those years of waiting on death row. There’s a concern that prosecutors, particularly in smaller counties, may make the decision of whether to pursue the death penalty based on the budget.

There’s a chance an innocent person will be executed.

The Death Penalty Information Center reports that there’s no way to know for certain how many of the more than 1,450 people executed since 1976 were innocent. There’s strong evidence that at least 14 executed people were innocent, the center reports. Nine of those cases were in Texas.

For these reasons and more, it’s time for Washington state to close down death row permanently.

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