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Crime, Law and Justice
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Is Support Building For Death Penalty Repeal In Washington? ?

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Austin Jenkins
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Northwest News Network
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, right, testifies in favor of repealing the death penalty in Washington. He was joined by Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Momentum may be building to repeal the death penalty in Washington state. The Senate Law & Justice Committee is expected to pass a repeal measure—something that hasn’t happened in modern times. That follows an impassioned public hearing Monday.

The hearing featured King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, a Republican who has previously sought the death penalty. But he now says he supports repeal.

“I have come to the conclusion finally after 27 years that our criminal justice system would be stronger without the death penalty,” Satterberg said.

He called the capital punishment unnecessary, unworkable and said it should be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But other prosecutors like Mark Roe of Snohomish County disagreed. He read a letter from Jim Hamm, the father of Jayme Biendl, a correctional officer who was murdered by an inmate already serving life without parole.

“In the case of the murder of my daughter, abolishing the death penalty effectively removes the only punishment that remains for that offender,” Hamm wrote.

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Credit Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network
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Northwest News Network
Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe, right, testifies in favor of keeping the death penalty in Washington. He was joined by Whatcom County Prosecutor David McEachran.

Families of murder victims are also divided. Teresa Mathis’s brother Charlie was beaten to death in Pierce County in 1983. The crime didn’t qualify for the death penalty and Mathis said she’s glad it didn’t.

“The death penalty comes with costs and I’m not opposed to spending money on criminal justice,” Mathis said. “But I want the money we spend to do good and I want it to be spent well and I don’t think that’s the case with the death penalty.”

That’s a key argument for repeal—the cost of appeals that can stretch on for two decades. But Jessie Trapp said there are other costs as well. Her mother was murdered in 1996 by Cecil Davis who’s on Washington’s death row today for another killing.

“I believe that he deserves the death penalty,” Trapp said. “He does not deserve to have friends in prison, he does not deserve to have TV, to have meals, to have medical.”

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Credit Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network
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Northwest News Network
Jessie Trapp, whose mother was murdered by death row inmate Cecil Davis, urges a panel of lawmakers to oppose a death penalty repeal measure.

Washington is one of four states currently with a moratorium on executions. The death penalty has been abolished or overturned by the courts in 19 states, including most recently in Delaware.

There are currently eight people on death row in Washington.