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Washington state eliminates death penalty

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks as he gives his annual State of the State address, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Due to cautions against COVID-19, Inslee gave his speech in the State Reception Room and it was shown by streaming video to lawmakers meeting remotely. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(CNN) — The death penalty was abolished in Washington state Thursday after Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law eliminating the state-sanctioned punishment.

Besides the death penalty, Senate Bill 5087 also eliminated other laws, including a measure that allowed sterilization as criminal punishment. The Democratic-controlled legislature passed the bill earlier this month.

“I initiated a moratorium against the death penalty in Washington State in 2014, and our rationale for that decision was affirmed by our (state) Supreme Court decision in 2018, when they invalidated the death penalty statute,” Inslee said during the bill signing Thursday. “They made clear, and we know this to be true, that the penalty has been applied unequally and in a racially insensitive manner.”

Advocates for abolishing the death penalty, including the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, praised the move.

“Racial bias plays a role in death penalty decisions here in Washington and across the United States,” M. Lorena González, the group’s legislative director said in a statement to CNN on Friday. “We are pleased that the Washington state Legislature has finally finished the work of ending this arbitrary and discriminatory practice.”

The bill has faced criticism from Republicans, including state Rep. Jim Walsh, who called it “another sad example of the interests of criminals being put ahead of the interests of victims and their families” in a Facebook post earlier this month.

In 2018, Washington state’s Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional because it was inconsistently applied. Use of the death penalty varied depending on the location of the crime or the race of the accused, which is a violation of the state’s constitution, the court said at the time. County of residence and budgetary resources were also contributing factors, the ruling also stated.

Washington state has carried out five executions since the US Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. All defendants were White.

But studies have suggested that race does play a role when it comes to jury decisions to sentence a defendant to death. A 2014 report by the University of Washington found that jurors in the state were “more than four times more likely to impose a death sentence if the defendant is black.”

As of April 1, 2022, there were 2,414 people on death row in the United States, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. Capital punishment is legal in 27 states, the center also says.