Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
February 21, 2014
In 2010, Cal Coburn Brown was executed by the state of Washington. Brown had brutally tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered a young woman. He left her body in the trunk of a car at the Sea-Tac Airport.
Brown then jumped on an airplane and went to meet a woman in Palm Springs, Calif. He was torturing her when she escaped and notified police.
Brown spent more than 16 years on Washington’s death row. As he lay strapped to a gurney awaiting lethal injection, he protested what he perceived to be the unfairness of his sentence. He complained that criminals who had killed many more people, such as “Green River killer” Gary Ridgway, were serving life sentences while he received a death sentence.
Ridgway murdered at least 48 women in Washington during the 1980s and 1990s, earning the nickname when his first five victims were found in the Green River. “I only killed one victim,” said Brown. “I cannot really see that there is true justice. Hopefully, sometime in the future that gets straightened out.”
Brown’s execution was the last carried out in Washington. He may end up being the last person ever executed in the state.
Last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee suspended the use of the death penalty in Washington for as long as he’s in office. There are nine men on death row. Recently, a federal court lifted a stay on the execution of Jonathan Lee Gentry, who has been on death row since 1988.
Inslee said in a prepared statement, “Death sentences are neither swift nor certain. Seven of the nine men on death row committed their crimes more than 15 years ago, including one from 26 years ago.”
Last year, Maryland lawmakers did away with the death penalty, joining New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut to abolish capital punishment in just the last six years.
Inslee is not alone among governors suspending capital punishment. Last year, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper vowed not to carry out any executions as governor. Colorado has had the death penalty since 1977, although only one person has been put to death since then and there are just three killers on death row.
Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon also said he would not allow executions in his state during his time in office. Oregon has executed just two people since voters approved the death penalty in 1984, and both of those inmates waived their right to appeal, making them so-called volunteers. There are 37 inmates on Oregon’s death row. The state’s last execution was in 1997.
In spite of the action of a half-dozen states and a handful of governors, a majority of Americans, 55 percent, support the death penalty, according to a 2013 Pew Research Survey. That number has declined significantly over the last two decades — in 1996, 78 percent of Americans favored capital punishment.
Not everyone agrees that the death penalty is on life support. California voters in 2012 defeated a ballot measure that would have abolished the death penalty and replaced it with life in prison without parole. California has not executed any of its more than 740 condemned inmates since 2006.
Just this past week, three former California governors, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, threw their political weight behind still another opportunity for California voters to decide the fate of the death penalty.
The proposed referendum would streamline the state court appeals process. The measure would also overhaul the way death row inmates’ lawyers are appointed, change the method by which lethal injection procedures are approved and attach some limitation on federal appeals.
There are 32 states with the death penalty on the books, and states like Texas, Ohio and Oklahoma have not backed away from carrying it out.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 is due out this summer. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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