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One More Cowardly Moratorium

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Jonathan Lee Gentry was convicted in 1991 of the murder of 12-year-old Cassie Holden in Bremerton, Washington.  He bashed her head in with a rock.  The circumstances suggested sexual assault, although the autopsy could not conclusively confirm that. The State of Washington has spent the years since defending the judgment against Gentry's numerous attacks.  In the Ninth Circuit, even Judge Paez, who almost never votes to affirm a capital sentence, concurred that his claims had no merit.  The "normal" appeals ended with the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari last October.  The Washington Supreme Court subsequently denied yet another petition last month.

Now comes Washington Governor Jay Inslee, announcing he will impose a moratorium, granting reprieves so that no one is executed while he is governor.  He conveniently omitted any mention of an intent to would do that while campaigning for the office, so as to allow the people of Washington to decide if they wanted a governor who would clear-cut justice in this manner.  (Campaign website here.)  The election was reasonably close at 51.5 - 48.5, so it is quite possible he would not be governor if he had announced his intentions in advance of the election, which, of course, is precisely why he did not.  If anyone reading believes that he has had a change of heart based on recent study and soul-searching, I would like to sell you a bridge.  This action is one more in a series of Profiles in Cowardice that we have seen in multiple states.  Get elected first, then drop the bomb.

Inslee's claimed reasons for this action are here.  Let's see if a single one actually supports failure to carry out Gentry's thoroughly deserved and thoroughly reviewed punishment.
First, the practical reality is that those convicted of capital offenses are, in fact, rarely executed. Since 1981, the year our current capital laws were put in place, 32 defendants have been sentenced to die. Of those, 19, or 60%, had their sentences overturned. One man was set free and 18 had their sentences converted to life in prison.
That is absolutely no reason not to carry out this sentence.  The number one reason for high reversal rates in the early days of capital punishment was that the rules were constantly changing and sentences imposed after trials conducted correctly according to the law at the time of the trial were overturned ex post facto.  That deplorable situation, largely behind us now, raises no doubt that Gentry's sentence is deserved and justly imposed.

Second, the costs associated with prosecuting a capital case far outweigh the price of locking someone up for life without the possibility of parole.
That has nothing to do with the Gentry case, where those costs have already been incurred.  Capital cases do indeed cost too much, but they do not need to cost more than a life imprisonment case.  A real leader would be leading the charge for the needed reforms.

Third, death sentences are neither swift nor certain. Seven of the nine men on death row committed their crimes more than 15 years ago, including one from 26 years ago. While they sit on death row and pursue appeal after appeal, the families of their victims must constantly revisit their grief at the additional court proceedings.
That is downright bizarre.  Inslee's order is an order for more delay.  He cites excessive delay as a reason?  Lead, damn it, and push for reforms to fix the delay.  Do not denounce delay and then cause more of it.

Fourth, there is no credible evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. That's according to work done by the National Academy of Sciences, among other groups.
The individuals who co-authored the report concluded that, in their opinion, the evidence on the whole was "not informative."  However, the report says right up front, "Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project."  (We don't even know if the report reflects the views of James Q. Wilson, listed as a co-author, as he died before the report was final.)

This is a subject of continuing hot dispute among experts.  Reasonable people can differ as to how convincing the evidence is, but to say there is no credible evidence is wrong.

In any event, even if one believes that the execution of Gentry would not deter, that is not a reason to fail to follow through with a just, deserved punishment for a horrible crime.  Justice is its own justification and does not depend on deterrent effect.

And finally, our death penalty is not always applied to the most heinous offenders.
That is no reason.  For any penalty we choose to impose, some people will escape it.  Some criminals are never caught.  Some escape outside our grasp.  Some succeed in having essential evidence suppressed.  Do we open the doors and let them all out in response?  No, of course not.

If others who deserve the death penalty are not getting it, let us adopt reforms to have it imposed more consistently.  That is no reason to refrain from carrying out deserved judgments.

Of the reasons given, not a single one holds water.

1 Comment

This governor has earned the contempt and the white hot hatred of the victims' families.

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