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Does Inslee need lessons from Florida, Texas?

Gov. Jay Inslee is under conservative fire for his capital punishment moratorium.
Gov. Jay Inslee is under conservative fire for his capital punishment moratorium.
David Ryder/Getty Images

Gov. Jay Inslee, who announced a moratorium on capital punishment yesterday that might allow capital cases to drag on for years, could use some perspective from two other states – Florida and Texas – if one concurs with his critics, and there appears to be a growing number of them this morning, if one reads comments from Seattle Times readers here and here.

Radio talk host Lars Larson of Vancouver, substituting this morning for KVI’s John Carlson, even suggested that Inslee should be recalled, and suggested that the announcement is an effort to divert public attention from budget woes to the heading-to-the-red tunnel project in Seattle. Times columnist Danny Westneat has a far different opinion.

The subject was also discussed yesterday by KIRO’s Dori Monson and Wednesday morning by KIRO’s Dave Ross, who talked to Inslee, and actually quoted this column when he touched on the subject of gun control.

What could Inslee learn from Florida? The Seattle Times is reporting this morning that convicted killer Juan Carlos Chavez, who raped and murdered a 9-year-old boy, is scheduled to die at 3 o’clock Pacific time today by lethal injection. It has been more than 18 years since Chavez abducted Jimmy Ryce as he got off a school bus. He raped the child, shot him when he tried to get away, and dismembered the body. Months later, after his landlady found the boy’s belongings and the murder weapon and turned him in, Chavez confessed to the crime and took police to where he buried the boy’s remains, the Times story said.

It is interesting that an unscientific Times poll started yesterday shows a nearly 2-to-1 split supporting Inslee’s decision.

Today’s Times also has links to three other recent stories of execution, one in Missouri and the other two in Texas, here and here.

During his morning broadcast, Larson referred to a paper authored almost nine years ago by Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule of the Harvard Law School, that noted, among other things, that, “Recent evidence suggests that capital punishment may have a significant deterrent effect, preventing as many eighteen or more murders for each execution. This evidence greatly unsettles moral objections to the death penalty, because it suggests that a refusal to impose that penalty condemns numerous innocent people to death.”

That paper referred to an even earlier report by Isaac Erhlich, “The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death,” that appeared in the June 1975 issue of the American Economic Review, Vol. 65, No. 3.

If there is a deterrent effect of capital punishment, then opponents have been erroneously claiming otherwise. It is not as though they could not have known about this opposing view, since the Sunstein-Vermeule paper was published in 2005, three decades after Erlich’s paper appeared. Translation: Their findings have been around almost 40 years, and should be part of the debate that the Seattle Times’ Wednesday editorial promotes. That's also getting some reaction.

It is not unusual for people to ignore evidence that does not support their personal views. It is happening with capital punishment as it has happened for many years with gun control. Perhaps not surprisingly, capital punishment opponents are often anti-gunners, though that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Likewise, fervent gun rights advocates are often, albeit not always, death penalty supporters.

This raises a question about whether there is some hypocrisy at work, because people who carry firearms for personal protection are essentially prepared to take a life to defend their own. That decision would come in a split second, where the decision to execute someone enjoys the benefit of time, review and investigation, followed by years of appeals.

This column yesterday heard from a handful of readers on the subject. Now would be a good time to weigh in below. Be polite, succinct and stay on subject.

Is Gov. Inslee right or wrong to suspend executions while he remains in office?


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