Two separate courts (a County Superior court and a Federal District court) have issued stays of execution for Darold Stenson, who was scheduled to be put to death by the state of Washington on December 3. According to media reports, these stays will be appealed by state and county officials who are still hopeful that the execution can take place.
The Federal court’s decision was based on a lethal injection challenge, while the County court has ordered new DNA testing which might shed light on Stenson’s claims that he is innocent. The question of the utter arbitrariness of the death penalty in Washington, which I wrote about on Monday, remains unaddressed.
Washington State flag
The death penalty isn’t as popular out West as it is down South. For example, there hasn’t been an execution in Washington since 2001, and there have been only four total in the 30+ years since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Not that there are never any serious crimes in The Evergreen State. Gary Ridgway was convicted of 48 murders … but he avoided the death penalty. This has led many to recognize that capital punishment in Washington is extremely arbitrary, which in turn led to an important Washington Supreme Court decision in 2006. Four Washington Supreme Court judges said that “No rational explanation exists to explain why some individuals escape the penalty of death and others do not.” The other five Supreme Court judges said that the question of “whether the death penalty can, in fairness, be proportional” was an important one that the state’s Legislature was in the best place to answer. So far this important question has yet to be adequately addressed.
Which brings us to Darold Stenson, who is scheduled to be executed on December 3 (really one minute after midnight on December 2). The crime he was convicted of, two murders, was certainly terrible (although he is refusing to petition for clemency and continues to try to get more DNA testing to challenge his conviction). But as long as the capital punishment remains as arbitrary as it is in Washington, Governor Gregoire should not allow executions in her state to proceed.