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WA suspends death penalty

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the moratorium Tuesday.
A woman holds a sign outside the Washington State Penitentiary, in Walla Walla, Wash, Sept. 9, 2010.
A woman holds a sign outside the Washington State Penitentiary, in Walla Walla, Wash, Sept. 9, 2010.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that he will suspend the use of the death penalty in the state, saying there are "too many flaws in this system today" to continue to employ it.

The announcement came after what the governor said was months of meetings with families of victims, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials. Speaking at a press conference, the Democrat said he wanted lawmakers to "join a growing national conversation about capital punishment."

Inslee said that if a death penalty case does come to him, he will issue a reprieve. Inslee reiterated that a reprieve would not pardon or commute a convict's sentence. "Nobody is getting out of prison," he said. Nine men are currently on death row in Washington, which has not executed an inmate since 2010.

While this is only a moratorium, it adds Washington to a growing list of states without the death penalty. Eighteen states have already abolished capital punishment - six of them in the last six years - and a shortage of drugs used in lethal injections has led to controversy over whether new drug combinations constitute cruel and unusual punishment. An execution in Ohio that used an untested combination of two drugs lasted for 25 minutes. The executed man's family is now suing the state for violating his constitutional rights.

Anti-death penalty activists see Inslee's move as one towards a fairer criminal justice system and towards abolition. "I think this is definitely a first step," Kathleen Taylor, the executive director of the ACLU of Washington state told msnbc. While Taylor says it will likely take time to mobilize the legislature to discuss issues surrounding the death penalty like cost and unfair application, "I think this is going to raise the visibility of those concerns."

"Ultimately, I think the action today is consistent with Washington state’s general approach to public policy, which is to be practical," said Taylor.