Washington Governor Jay Inslee [official website] on Tuesday announced a moratorium on executions [remarks, PDF; press release] in the state. Under Washington law [RCW 10.01.120 text] the governor has the power to commute death sentences. In his remarks Inslee criticized the death penalty, stating the "system that falls short of equal justice under the law and makes it difficult for the State to justify the use of the death penalty." The governor noted that since the death penalty in its current form was put in place in Washington in 1981, 32 defendants have been sentenced to die, but 19 have had their sentences overturned, one man was set free and 18 have had their sentences converted to life in prison. Inslee stated "when the majority of death penalty sentences lead to reversal, the entire system itself must be called into question." In addition to voicing the belief the application of the death penalty is "inconsistent and unequal," the governor argued the high cost of prosecuting a capital offense at both the trial and appellate level makes life imprisonment without parole a more economical choice for the state.
The institution of the death penalty in the US has been under scrutiny recently due to questions over the particular lethal injection drugs used. Earlier this month Florida's highest court ordered [JURIST report] an evidentiary hearing to determine if the sedative midazolam should remain in the state's lethal injection procedure. Also in February a judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana [official website] declared that the scheduled execution of 70-year-old Christopher Sepulvado by lethal injection will be delayed for 90 days after the Louisiana Department of Corrections officials expanded their execution protocol to include a new two-drug mixture. The review of lethal injection procedures in a number of states stems from the prolonged execution [JURIST report] of convicted murderer Dennis McGuire in January.