In recent years, Sen. Ed Murray has repeatedly taken the lead in the Legislature in trying to abolish the death penalty. This year, the Ways and Means chairman and gay-rights advocate is a little busy trying to write a state budget and legalize same-sex marriage.
Taking over this perennial heavy lift is Tacoma Sen. Debbie Regala.
The Democrat is working with the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of groups that opposes the death penalty and is coming to Olympia Wednesday to lobby lawmakers to abolish capital punishment and to speak at a public hearing and news conference.
The bill’s prospects are uncertain in the Senate and dim in the House. Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, said he would withhold his vote, effectively blocking it in committee unless a Republican joins the other Democrats in support.
Kirby says the Legislature is taking up too many divisive issues this year, from gay marriage to taxes to charter schools.
In this year of budget cuts, opponents of execution are focusing on the high costs of capital cases.
But the arguments on both sides are emotional, including for Regala, whose family was rocked by violent crime decades ago.
Regala said her brother-in-law was killed in 1980 and his body dumped in a Seattle park. The killer was never found, she said.
“It’s still painful and hard for me to talk about because the hurt never goes away, Regala said, “but executing that person doesn’t solve that problem for me.”
Since the current capital-punishment law was passed in 1981, just five people have been executed in Washington, most recently Cal Coburn Brown in 2010 for the rape and murder of Holly Washa in SeaTac.
“De facto right now, we don’t have a death penalty in the state of Washington,” said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood.
Carrell said it’s little more than a “bargaining chip” for prosecutors to use to force plea deals. But he thinks it’s crucial for prosecutors to have that weapon, which was used, for example, to force Green River Killer Gary Ridgway to reveal the locations of some of his victims’ bodies.