WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - Washington become the 20th American state to outlaw capital punishment after its Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the current death penalty statute is unconstitutional as it was applied in an 'arbitrary and racially biased manner.'
Announcing the court's verdict on an appeal by death row inmate Allen Eugene Gregory, who was convicted for raping and murdering a woman in 1996, Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst said the court concluded that the state's law violates constitutional prohibition on 'cruel punishment' and 'lacks fundamental fairness.'
The appeal had included a study by University of Washington sociologists, which cited black convicts were 4.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death in Washington state than white inmates.
The judges' decision was unanimous. As a result, eight people currently on death row in Washington, including Gregory, immediately had their sentences commuted to life.
In 2017, 23 death row convicts were executed in the United States. Texas remained the state with the highest number of executions, accounting for 30 percent of the national total.
Governor of Washington Jay Inslee welcomed the decision. 'Equal justice is a hallmark of democracy and assuring equal justice is the state's responsibility. I've long been convinced that the death penalty in the state of Washington does not pass that test,' he said on Twitter.
In 2014, Inslee declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington state saying at the time it was clear to him that use of capital punishment is inconsistent and unequal.
Reacting to the news, Kristina Roth, Senior Program Officer at Amnesty International USA, said 'This is tremendous news for all who fought to abolish the death penalty in Washington. She called on other states to follow suit.
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