(CN) - Washington will stop executing prisoners, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday, citing concerns that the punishment is unfair, costly and an unlikely deterrent against crime.
"Equal justice under the law is the state's primary responsibility," Inslee said during a press conference this morning. "And in death penalty cases, I'm not convinced equal justice is being served."
Halting the death penalty will not pardon or commute the sentence of the nine men on death row in the state, Inslee said.
"I don't question their guilt or the gravity of their crimes," he said. "They get no mercy from me."
Inslee plans to issue a reprieve that will keep the men in prison for the rest of their lives, but spare them a death sentence while he is in office.
There are "too many doubts" about capital punishment and "too many flaws in the system," Inslee said.
"The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred," he said. "That is a system that falls short of equal justice under the law and makes it difficult for the State to justify the use of the death penalty."
Inslee also cited the exorbitant cost of bringing death-penalty cases to trial as a reason for the moratorium. He said the cases are litigated for "decades" and cost counties millions of dollars and claimed studies show capital cases are more expensive than keeping someone in prison for life.
Inslee, a Democrat, was elected in 2013 and supported capital punishment during his campaign. He said his decision on the moratorium comes after reviewing the death penalty's application in the state with his staff over the past year. The governor did not say whether he would ask the Legislature to take up the issue.
"With my action today I expect Washington state will join a growing national conversation about capital punishment," he said "I welcome that and I'm confident that our citizens will engage in this very important debate."