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Kitsap County Prosecutor reacts to Inslee's death penalty moratorium

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge said it will be “business as usual” for his office following Tuesday’s announcement by Governor Jay Inslee that he will institute a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington state while in office.

“What he did was basically promise that if any death warrant reaches his desk, any case where all appeals are exhausted, he’s going to give that person a reprieve, not a commutation or a pardon. A reprieve is nothing more than a stay and it’s only effective as long as he’s in office.”

Hauge said that by law, his office still has to consider the death penalty in certain cases.

“Although I would not really argue with any of the positions raised by the governor to justify the decision, nothing about his decision changes the workload that we’re going to bear in Kitsap County or that other prosecutors will bear in the rest of the state. We’re still obligated to consider the death penalty in appropriate cases.”

Hauge also noted that one of the first death warrants to hit the governor’s desk could be that of Jonathan Gentry. Gentry, 57, was sentenced to death in 1991 for the 1988 murder of Cassie Holden, 12, whose body was found near Rolling Hills Golf Course.

Hauge said it was one of the first cases in the state where DNA was used at trial and helped convict Gentry. Later testing of blood on Gentry’s shoelaces showed the chances of it being anyone’s blood other than Cassie’s to be 1 in 110 trillion.

“It’s her blood, so there’s no doubt about his guilt,” Hauge said.

Hauge also noted that the governor didn’t mention any death row inmates, victims or particular cases.

“It didn’t really change anything other than to push out to an indefinite point in the future the fate of the Gentry case and any other case where the death penalty is involved,” he said.

When asked about his personal position when it comes to death penalty, Hauge had this to say: “Personally, I am an elected prosecutor,” he said. “The law says I should seek the death penalty in the appropriate cases.”

In making his announcement, Governor Inslee said he made his decision after months of careful review of the status of capital punishment in Washington state including research on current cases, discussions with prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and family members of homicide victims, and a tour of death row and the execution chambers at Walla Walla State Penitentiary.

Inslee said it is clear to him that use of capital punishment is inconsistent and unequal, and it’s time to have a conversation about ensuring equal justice under the law.

“Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served,” Inslee said. “The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.”

Washington currently has nine death row inmates. All nine are challenging their convictions in state or federal court. The Attorney General’s Office is handling the four cases currently in federal court.

The Office of Attorney General represents the state of Washington when death row inmates file “habeas corpus” petitions — or challenges to their convictions or sentences — with the federal courts.

The Attorney General’s Office also represents the Department of Corrections in state and federal court litigation challenging death row inmates’ conditions of confinement and DOC’s execution policies and procedures.

“Consistent with the governor’s announcement, the Office of the Attorney General will continue to defend the state against cases brought by death row inmates challenging their convictions and sentences,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Tuesday.

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