Efforts to eliminate state death penalty short change victims and their families

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(As published in the Eastern Washingtonian, Feb. 2019)

Efforts in Olympia to eliminate the death penalty are shortsighted and do an extreme disservice to violent crime victims, their families and the community at large.

Senate Bill 5339 passed the Senate recently and is now in the House of Representatives.  The legislation was requested by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and sponsored by Senate Democrats.

I have grave concerns about removing one of the most effective tools prosecutors have when negotiating plea deals with violent criminals.

I remember when the Green River Killer was finally caught.  Gary Ridgway was originally going to be charged with seven murders.  But, once the death penalty was on the table, he confessed to over 40 more and led authorities to the remains of his victims and provided some answers to questioning families and unsure communities. 

The proponents of this legislation talk about the costs associated with the death penalty.  But they do so in dollars and cents, without taking into account the hundreds of family members and loved ones that deserve justice and need resolution.

In addition, advances in DNA and other surveillance technology continues to reduce the risk of putting innocent criminals to death.

I am very concerned for our correctional workers and prison guards.  For those already serving life in prison, what's to keep them from committing more crimes while incarcerated?  We are placing our prison guards at unnecessary risk because the inmates they're guarding would no longer have anything to lose.

If eliminating the death penalty wasn't enough, another bill, Senate Bill 5819, would eliminate the next harshest penalty: life without the possibility of parole.  This leave “life in prison” as the maximum sentence in Washington state, which really amounts to 15-20 years with good behavior.

What does all this mean?  Do the math.

The worst violent sexual predators who have committed the most heinous acts imaginable would be looking at 15-20 years maximum.  And that's before the defense attorney and prosecutors start negotiations.

The end result would be more violent predators released back into communities with plenty of time left for them to find more victims.

I think most legislators and victim advocate groups were shocked a few years ago when Gov. Jay Inslee decided to issue an executive order to put a halt to the death penalty.  This overreach of executive powers left many of us wondering what he would do next.

When the Washington state Supreme Court ruled on the death penalty late last year, it found the law invalid “because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”

Rather than work with law enforcement, prosecutors and victims' advocates to rework the law, Senate Democrats are now trying to do away with it altogether.

Two years ago, I sent out an online survey to constituents in the 9th Legislative District.  At that time, over 64 percent said they thought we should keep the death penalty to help bring “closure to victims and families” and so that prosecutors would have all options on the table when dealing with violent sexual predators.

To me, nothing has changed.  I will work against this legislation and strive to protect our children, families and communities from the worst-of-the-worst.

(Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, represents the 9th Legislative District.)

State Representative Joe Schmick, 9th Legislative District
426B Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
360-786-7844 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000