Convicted killer Cecil Davis has asked the state’s high court to spare his life twice in the past decade.
And twice the justices have said no — though that doesn’t mean he’ll be executed.
On Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court upheld Davis’ death sentence for the murder of Yoshiko Couch in 1997. Davis also raped and robbed the Tacoma woman, while her invalid husband was in the house and couldn’t help her.
Davis will be allowed to live at least while Jay Inslee is governor. He issued a moratorium on executions in 2014, but after his term the future for the state’s death row inmates is uncertain.
The Supreme Court upheld Davis’ sentence by dismissing what’s known as a personal restraint petition. It argued that he should not have been sentenced to death, because that violated his constitutional rights to a jury trial and due process, and against cruel and unusual punishment.
The state’s capital punishment system fails to protect intellectually disabled criminals from execution, Davis said.
State law and the U.S. Constitution prohibit the death penalty for the intellectually disabled, but a trial judge decided Davis didn’t qualify for the exemption.
A jury, not a judge, should have made that decision, Davis argued.
The high court rejected those arguments, and Davis’ assertion that his attorneys had been ineffective at trial.
“We find his arguments unpersuasive and dismiss the petition,” Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote for the majority, which included five other members of the court.
Justice Barbara Madsen dissented, and agreed with Davis that a jury should have decided whether he had an intellectual disability. State law that says the judge should make that determination violates the Sixth Amendment, she wrote, which includes the right to a jury trial and due process.
Davis’ death sentence should be reversed, Madsen said, and he should be sent back to trial court for another sentencing.
Justice Sheryl McCloud and Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst concurred with the majority, but argued the case should go back to the trial court to examine the experience Davis’ appellate counsel had with similar cases.
Then the high court should use that information to consider a recent request Davis made for new attorneys, the justices said.
“The lawyers on this case are dedicated, experienced, hardworking professionals; but collateral challenges in death penalty cases is one of the most complicated areas of the law,” McCloud wrote in their opinion.
After Davis first appealed his death sentence to the Supreme Court, the justices overturned it in 2004. A juror saw Davis shackled during trial, which the high court said might have influenced the juror to consider him dangerous.
As a result, the case was sent back to Pierce County, where a second jury decided Davis should die.
He appealed the sentence again to the Supreme Court, asking for life without parole, and the court said no in 2012.
The personal restraint petition was Davis’ most recent attempt to permanently stave off execution.
It wasn’t clear Thursday whether Davis planned to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision.
He’s one of eight people in the state on death row, which is at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Davis raped the 65-year-old Couch in her home, then smothered her with a towel soaked in toxic solvent. He also took the wedding ring from Couch’s finger, cash from her purse, and beer and meat from her kitchen.
Separate from that murder, he is serving a life sentence for fatally stomping another woman, Jane Hungerford-Trapp, in Tacoma in 1996.