Washington state Governor Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty in his state, citing concerns about unequal application of justice in determining who is executed, reported Reuters.
The action marked a victory for opponents of capital punishment who have seen a growing number of U.S. states take steps in recent years to end executions, either by legislation or through suspensions issued by governors or the courts.
"Equal justice under the law is the state's primary responsibility," Inslee, a first-term Democrat, told a news conference announcing the suspension of capital punishment. "And in death penalty cases, I'm not convinced equal justice is being served."
But Inslee stopped short of commuting to life in prison the sentences of the nine inmates currently on death row in Washington state, leaving open the possibility they could still be executed should a future governor lift the moratorium. The next election for governor will be held in 2016.
Eighteen U.S. states have already legally ended executions, with Maryland last year becoming the sixth state in six years to abolish capital punishment.
While a clear majority of Americans - or about 60 percent - support the death penalty for convicted murderers, support for capital punishment nationally has been on the decline, according to a Gallup poll released in October.
The 60 percent figure marks the lowest level of support for the death penalty Gallup has measured since November 1972, when 57 percent were in favor. Death penalty support peaked at 80 percent in 1994.
The United States saw 39 inmates sent to the death chamber last year, down from 43 in each of the past two years, with a small number of states such as Texas, Florida and Oklahoma accounting for most executions.
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