As the daughter of a murder victim, I urge Washington legislators to repeal the death penalty this month. Washington should join Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Mexico, which have all repealed the death penalty since 2007.
In 1990, when I was 16, my mother’s body was discovered in a field along Highway 410 near Enumclaw months after her disappearance.
Her case languished as a cold case until 2003, when a suspect was finally named: Gary Ridgway.
As many residents of the Pacific Northwest know, Ridgway was dubbed the Green River Killer, and in 2003 was already in custody for several other murders in the greater Seattle area after being at large for 20 years.
Ridgway agreed to plead guilty to 48 counts of first-degree murder in exchange for providing information to law enforcement about the murders. As a result, he received a sentence of life without possibility of parole, which means he will die in prison. He is being held at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
The Green River Task Force and the King County Prosecutor’s Office were faced with a gargantuan amount of evidence in the murders Ridgway committed.
Their decision to offer Ridgway life without parole released my family from the painful lack of closure – of not knowing who killed our mother, 36-year-old Marti Reeves, and from the decades of appeals and uncertainty that go along with the death penalty.
Many family members of the victims of murder live with the reality that their case might never be solved.
Despite what Ridgway did to my mother, and the pain he wreaked on me, my family and our community, I have never, not even for a minute, wanted him to receive the death penalty. Retribution in the case of murder does absolutely nothing to undo the act.
Punishing my mother’s murderer has absolutely nothing to do with her death; Ridgway’s fate is separate from hers. His execution would never bring her back or take away the suffering.
If family members of murder victims want retribution, what is harder for the criminal: death or lifelong accountability? Execution is arguably an easier fate.
If Washington joins those in other states who have abolished the death penalty, the sentences of Washington’s eight death row inmates will be converted to life without parole, and they will die in prison.
One recent study by Seattle University found we would save millions of tax dollars by replacing the death penalty with life without parole — money we could spend improving the quality of life for victims and communities and solving more murders.
Each year in Washington, far too many homicides go unsolved due to a lack of resources. Having waited months before my mother’s body was found, then over a decade for the killer to be identified, I know how difficult it is to wait for justice.
No family should ever have to go without it.
Law enforcement officials are faced with an immense challenge and they need more resources and training to solve more homicides, more quickly. Murder victims’ families also have needs, including financial assistance for burials, grief counseling and medical care.
Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on carrying out the death penalty, we should improve victims’ services and direct resources toward unsolved murder investigations and prisoner rehabilitation.
Victims deserve better than the hollow promise of another death. It’s time for Washington to join the states working for solutions to violent crime, not perpetuating it with the death penalty.
Nova Reeves, a San Francisco Bay Area resident, has been involved with California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the Northern California ACLU’s campaign to end the death penalty. Reach her by email at email@example.com