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Washington's state Supreme Court outlaws death penalty

Washington's state Supreme Court outlaws death penalty

A full panel of judges on the Washington state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's death penalty is unconstitutional.

In the unanimous ruling, the court said the death penalty is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner and fails to serve any legitimate penological goal.

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“All death sentences are hereby converted to life imprisonment,” the majority ruling said.

The case centered on Allen Eugene Gregory, who was convicted of aggravated first degree murder and sentenced to death in 2001. In appealing his sentence, he commissioned a study on the effect of race and county on the imposition of the death penalty.

The report found that decisions to seek or impose the death penalty varied county by county and that black defendants were 4 1/2 times more likely to be sentenced to death than similarly situated white defendants.

The court said the new information prompted them to review Gregory’s constitutional claim and rule in his favor.

“It is now apparent that Washington's death penalty is administered in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote in the majority ruling.

“Given the evidence before us, we strike down Washington's death penalty as unconstitutional.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) praised the ruling in a statement, calling it a “hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”

“Today’s decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington,” Inslee said. “The court makes it perfectly clear that capital punishment in our state has been imposed in an ‘arbitrary and racially biased manner,’ is ‘unequally applied’ and serves no criminal justice goal.”

The court’s decision reduces the number of states that allow the death penalty to 30.

According to the Washington State Department of Corrections, there are eight inmates on death row and 78 people have been executed in the state since 1904. None of them were women. The last execution, according to state records online, took place on September 10, 2010.

Avery Anapol contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:26 p.m.