Washington Gov. Jay Inslee suspends death penalty

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Gov. Jay Inslee announces Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, that he is suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state during a news conference in Olympia, Wash. Inslee’s moratorium, which will be in place for as long as he is governor, means that if a death penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which isn’t a pardon and doesn’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Gov. Jay Inslee announces Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, that he is suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state during a news conference in Olympia, Wash. Inslee’s moratorium, which will be in place for as long as he is governor, means that if a death penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which isn’t a pardon and doesn’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee announces Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, that he is suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state. Inslee’s moratorium, which will be in place for as long as he is governor, means that if a death penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which isn’t a pardon and doesn’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

FILE – In this Nov. 20, 2008, file photo, the execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary is shown with the witness gallery behind glass at right, in Walla Walla, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, that he is suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state, but the moratorium does not commute the sentences of people currently condemned to death. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

FILE – In this Nov. 20, 2008, file photo, the execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary is shown as viewed from the witness gallery, in Walla Walla, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, that he is suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state, but the moratorium does not commute the sentences of people currently condemned to death. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Gov. Jay Inslee announces Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, that he is suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state during a news conference in Olympia, Wash. Inslee’s moratorium, which will be in place for as long as he is governor, means that if a death penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which isn’t a pardon and doesn’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he was suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state for as long as he’s in office, announcing a move that he hopes will enable officials to “join a growing national conversation about capital punishment.”

The first-term Democrat said he came to the decision after months of review, meetings with victims’ families, prosecutors and law enforcement.

“There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment, there are too many flaws in this system today,” Inslee said at a news conference. “There is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.”

Inslee’s action is the latest of several state moves on the death penalty in recent years.

In Maryland, lawmakers last year did away with the death penalty, becoming the 18th state to do so and the sixth in six years. Colorado’s governor last year decided to indefinitely stay an execution, saying he had concerns about the fairness of the system and would be unlikely to allow the delayed case to move forward while he was in office. And Oregon’s governor in 2011 issued a moratorium similar to what is now in effect in Washington state.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the moves away from the death penalty show that support for capital punishment is waning. “The death penalty is being used less,” he said.

Washington state hasn’t executed an inmate in more than three years. There have been seven inmates executed this year in the U.S., according to the Washington D.C.-based criminal justice nonprofit.

In Olympia, legislative efforts to get rid of the death penalty have received public hearings in recent years, but they’ve never gained political traction. Inslee said he would support a permanent ban from lawmakers.

Inslee, who was elected in 2012, said Tuesday that executions are “unequally applied” in the state, “sometimes dependent on the size of the county’s budget.” He also said death penalty cases can take years to wind through the legal system and represent a drag on state and local budgets.

He said the system “does not deter crime, costs citizens millions of dollars more than life in prison without parole,” is “uncertain in its application” and “exposes families to multiple decades of uncertainty.”

Inslee’s moratorium means that if a death penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve. Reprieves aren’t pardons and don’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death. Under Inslee’s system, death row inmates will remain in prison rather than face execution.

“During my term, we will not be executing people,” said Inslee. But “nobody is getting out of prison, period.”

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat who has introduced bills to get rid of the death penalty, said Inslee’s action provides a “profound shift” in momentum for future attempts.

“He has opened a legitimate conversation that gives the Legislature the ability to not only bring legislation forward in the coming years, but to step up and engage the public in that conversation,” he said.

There have been 78 inmates, all men, put to death in Washington state since 1904. Since a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for the resumption of executions by states, 1,366 people have been put to death in the U.S., according

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