Spokane Rep. Jenny Graham fights against bill to abolish death penalty during House hearing


A committee room and two overflow rooms filled with citizens Monday at the state Capitol – many of them families of murder victims who came to voice their views on a bill that would put an end to the death penalty in Washington state. John Sattgast reports from Olympia.

 Radio Report Transcript

SATTGAST: For three years, supporters have tried to abolish the death penalty in Washington state and replace it with life in prison without parole. And with new leadership in the state House, they think this may be the year the bill gets to the governor's desk.

A moratorium was issued in 2014 by Governor Jay Inslee and an October 2018 state Supreme Court ruling struck down capital punishment as arbitrary and racially biased.

During a hearing in the House Public Safety Committee, Noah Purcell, Solicitor General from the Attorney General's Office, urged passage of Senate Bill 5339, calling the existing statute an “unenforceable law.”

PURCELL: “Leaving this unenforceable law on the books creates confusion among the public about why the law is not being applied and it's just not the right choice.”

SATTGAST: Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell said it's unfair to families of murder victims to leave the law on the books when it can no longer be used.

CORNELL: “The death penalty is now in this state a castle in the sky. An empty wish for those who might think it has any utility left.”

SATTGAST: But Spokane State Representative Jenny Graham disagrees. Her 15-year-old sister, Debbie Estes, was murdered by Green River Killer Gary Ridgway in 1982. Without the death penalty, Graham says families would have never learned where Ridgway disposed of the bodies. She says Washington state is now abandoning victims' families while it seeks to make life easier for murderers.

GRAHAM: “I'm telling you, from the victims' side, there are zero – very little resources for us. We're expected to just get over it.”

SATTGAST: Graham's mother, Carol Estes, pleaded with the committee to reject the bill.

ESTES: “I expect you, the Legislature to make this right. My daughter demands it. Murder victims demand justice today.”

SATTGAST: Graham vows to continue the fight if the bill reaches the House floor.

John Sattgast, Olympia.

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