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Retired Judges Say Death Penalty Should Be Struck Down In Washington State

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
File photo from Nov. 20, 2008 of Washington state execution chamber in Walla Walla.

Fifty-six former and retired judges in Washington state are urging the Washington Supreme Court to declare the death penalty unconstitutional. They signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in a case  being heard tomorrow in Olympia.Former King County Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf acknowledges it’s an unusual move.

He says even retired judges are usually reluctant to publicly take a side. But, he says judges also see the importance of being fair.

“And I think what motivates me is that , in death penalty cases, it is very difficult to be fair," Alsdorf said.

Difficult, he says, because the death penalty is so arbitrary. He remembers struggling with the issue in a case where a teenager was charged with murder and faced a death sentence while the Green River Killer did not.

“And I thought, you have one person doing one crime, and it’s a bad crime, but he was potentially facing the death penalty when somebody, in cold blood, planned and executed more than 50. And I thought, I don’t see how you can be fair in that context,” Alsdorf said.

In addition to the 56 former and retired judges, the League of Women Voters of Washington, Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and several faith organizations have also signed on to the ACLU's friend-of-the-court brief.

The case before the Washington Supreme Court, State v. Gregory, concerns the death sentence of Allen Eugene Gregory. He was originally found guilty of raping and stabbing a Tacoma woman to death in 1996. The sentence was thrown out by the high court once. But, Pierce County took it back to court and Gregory was sentenced to death a second time.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.