Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a surprise announcement of his intention to grant across-the-board reprieves to nine murderers in capital punishment cases for no other conceivable reason than to appeal to his far-left base. Republican Sen. Steve O’Ban responded to Inslee’s unexpected announcement by introducing SB 6566, a measure that places clear limits on the governor’s clemency powers. O’Ban’s bill would “prohibit a governor from exercising his or her powers of clemency until after receiving a recommendation from the state Clemency and Pardons Board.” The bill’s primary purpose is to “avoid the arbitrary or capricious use of the governor’s pardoning power, the callous disregard of the opinions of victims in the governor’s decision-making process of the potential that the governor could in effect override policy decisions made through the legislative branch.”
Yesterday, the family members of murder victims involved in the state’s capital punishment cases joined O’Ban to convey their opposition to Inslee’s reprieves. The families of murder victims Jane Hungerford, Sunny Oster, Geneine Harshfield, and Telisha Shaver, along with Department of Corrections Officer Michael Boe, who discovered the body of fellow officer Jayme Biendl after she had been strangled to death while on duty, testified before the Senate Law and Justice Committee in favor of SB 6566. The testimonies delivered by the victims’ family members gave powerful insight into the emotional ramifications of Inslee’s arbitrary, capricious executive action.
Jesse Ripley, the daughter of Jane Hugerford, described the brutality of her mother’s death at the hands of Cecil Davis. She testified that Davis “does not show any remorse… he showed no regret [during his trial].” At one point during the trial, Davis turned to Ripley and “smirked.” Ripley went on to describe her family’s frustration and hurt over Inslee’s actions. She said, “My family work every day knowing we are helping him wake-up every day… our tax dollars are going to his three meals per day. Why do we have to live every day knowing we are supporting these killers? We deserve the right to have closure.”
Jim Hungerford, the brother of Jane Hungerford, testified concerning Davis’ trial process. He said that the “overwhelming evidence” presented at Davis’ trial proved him “guilty beyond any shadow of a doubt.” Expressing his frustration with Inslee’s moratorium, Hungerford reminded Senators that “two juries have found him worthy of the death penalty.”
Democrat Sen. Adam Kline asked them, “Is it something that you can understand… living life in prison, to some individuals, is worse than death? To some people, living life in prison is worse than death.” Hungerford brilliantly responded, “If that is true, why are these criminals going to court again and again to try and overturn their death sentences?” Ripley also responded, “Prison becomes a way of life for these criminals… they adapt to that lifestyle and it becomes their home… they have TV, internet, and food… life in prison is not worse than the death penalty.”
Mason County Corrections Officer Michael Boe testified on behalf of his former colleague Jayme Biendl who was murdered by Byron Scherf while on duty at the Monroe Correctional Complex. Scherf was serving a life sentence without parole for a previous murder and, while allowed contact with other prisoners, strangled Biendl to death with an amplifying cord in the prison chapel. Boe explained to Senators that the possibility of the death penalty serves as an important deterrent for prisoners who are already serving life terms. The death penalty deters murderers from attacking officers and fellow prisoners. For murderers who never stop killing, a death penalty sentence keeps them away from the rest of the prison population.
All family members in attendance testified that Inslee did not contact them or give them any notice prior to announcing his decision to stay capital punishment sentences. During his announcement, Inslee claimed to have contacted the victims’ families out of respect to them. County prosecutors, who testified after family members, echoed Inslee’s lack of communication. Contrary to what Inslee alleged, prosecutors testified that the governor did not ask them for advice or give them warning prior to his announcement. According to one prosecutor, Inslee’s insensitive and arbitrary decision “victimized [family members] again by a system that is supposed to protect them… this is the first time the victims’ families have had the opportunity to express their thoughts.”
Sandy Mullin, policy advisor to Inslee, testified on behalf of the governor’s office. In general, her testimony proved entirely unhelpful to those attempting to understand Inslee’s actions. Mullen began by reminding the Senators that Inslee only announced his intention to issue reprieves—which is entirely different from pardoning or commuting sentences. She insisted that Inslee will issue each reprieve on a case-by-case basis. When pressed by O’Ban, Mullen eventually admitted that, although Inslee would review each case individually, he has already made a decision to grant a reprieve in each case. Mullen went on to admit that she neither knew the names nor how many of the victims’ families Inslee supposedly contacted prior to his announcement.
Mullin’s testimony proved that—however the left attempts to message the governor’s decision—it is too late to change Inslee’s mind. He has made his choice. Prior to speaking to family members and prior to reviewing each and every case, Inslee made his decision to grant across-the-board reprieves to each murderer. His decision is thoughtless political pandering—and, he will stand by it. When questioned by Sen. Kline as to whether or not she understands that Inslee did not yet stop any executions, Sherry Shaver—mother to a murdered daughter—responded, “Yes, but it is another delay. We have to wait for a new governor to get [our justice] going again.”
As KCGOP explained in the past, Inslee’s decision is truly a travesty for justice. Families of victims expressed a sense of betrayal by their governor—a feeling that Inslee’s stripped the small semblance of closure they had. As one family member said, “The small bit of justice was taken away from us.”
Inslee’s arbitrary and capricious decision reeks of a callous disregard of the opinions of victims in his decision-making process. Inslee abused his executive powers. By stating his intention to issue across-the-board reprieves, he acted in a manner that overrides policy decisions made through the legislative branch. For these reasons—for the sake of both justice and our legislative process, the Legislature must pass O’Ban’s bill.
Please contact your legislative members and tell them that you support bill. Ask Democrats why they are so willing to hand over their legislative privileges to the governor. Send your support to Rep. Jay Rodne and Sen. Steve O’Ban who have committed themselves to the fight for justice.