Senate majority passes ‘unconscionable’ bill that would let murderers, rapists pursue quicker release from prison

OLYMPIA… Under Senate Bill 5036, passed today by the Senate’s Democratic majority,  128 offenders now serving time for aggravated murder or first-degree murder would immediately become eligible to apply for commutation of their sentences. Another 68 such offenders would be eligible to seek commutation within the next five years.

An additional 321 inmates sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) who have been in prison for more than 20 years can apply for commutation. Those convicted of capital murder — such as Gary Ridgway, better known as the “Green River Killer” – would be eligible to apply for commutation if they have served over 25 years. Other LWOP offenders in Washington prisons include 10 offenders convicted of first-degree rape; five more convicted of first-degree rape of a child; and eight more convicted of first-degree child molestation.

Under SB 5036, LWOP offenders would no longer be subject to the “utmost scrutiny” standard found in the state law on clemency and pardons.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, released this statement in response to today’s vote::

“I believe in redemption, in forgiveness and in grace, but how tone-deaf can the Democratic majority be to pass a bill that would result in our communities being exposed to murderers and rapists who should never go free? Washington already has a public-safety crisis, between rising crime rates and the anti-police laws that absolutely must be fixed this year. The Legislature should be creating laws that protect our communities and victims, not be looking for ways to put violent offenders back out on the street to victimize others.

“Senate Bill 5036 has a host of problems. Just yesterday, a member of the Clemency and Pardons Board said the most important aspect of the board is that it is voluntary. Yet the majority’s bill would change the board from voluntary to paid. Language buried in Section 7 of the requires the Clemency board to recommend an incarcerated individual be released unless they determine by a preponderance of the evidence that the inmate is more likely than not to commit new crimes – the bill presumes release.  Our communities and victims, in particular, deserve far better than that.

“This bill was put down by the House last year. That needs to happen again this year. I hope the House will recognize just how damaging this bill would be if it becomes law – how insulting it is to the victims and their families. It’s unconscionable.”