State Supreme Court eliminates death penalty in Washington, sparing eight inmates on death row


The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, ending capital punishment in Washington. The decision follows a 2014 order from Gov. Jay Inslee that placed a moratorium on executions.

Following the ruling, Inslee said “the decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington. The court makes it perfectly clear that capital punishment in our state has been imposed in an ‘arbitrary and racially biased manner,’ is ‘unequally applied’ and serves no criminal justice goal. This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”

The Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision. Since 1981, the year Washington state’s current capital laws were put in place, 32 defendants have been sentenced to die and of those, 18 had their sentences converted to life in prison and one was set free.

There are currently eight men on death row in Washington state, according to the Department of Corrections. After the state Supreme Court ruling Thursday they will have their sentences converted to life in prison.

Of the inmates, five are white and three are black.

They are:

Jonathan Lee Gentry, who was convicted in 1991 of fatally bludgeoning 12-year-old Cassie Holden in 1988 in Kitsap County.

Clark Richard Elmore, who was convicted in 1995 on one count of aggravated first degree murder and one count of rape in the second degree for the rape and murder of Christy Onstad, 14, the daughter of his live-in girlfriend in 1995 in Whatcom County.

Cecil Emile Davis, who was convicted in 1998 of one count of aggravated first degree murder for the suffocation/asphyxiation murder of Yoshiko Couch, 65, with a poisonous substance after burglarizing her home, robbing and then raping her in 1997 in Pierce County.

Dayva Michael Cross, who was convicted in 2001 for the stabbing deaths of his wife Anouchka Baldwin, 37, and stepdaughters Amanda Baldwin, 15, and Salome Holle, 18 in King County in 1999.

Robert Lee Yates Jr., who was convicted in 2002 of murdering Melinda Mercer, 24, in 1997 and Connie LaFontaine Ellis, 35, in 1998 in Pierce County.

Conner Michael Schierman, who was convicted in 2010 of four counts of aggravated first degree murder in the deaths of Olga Milkin, 28; her sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24, in 2006 in King County.

Allen Eugene Gregory, who was reconvicted in 2012 of first-degree aggravated murder for the rape and murder of 43-year-old Geneine “Genie” Harshfield in 1996 in Pierce County. Originally convicted and sentenced to death on May 25, 2001, Gregory’s case was overturned by the Washington Supreme Court on November 30, 2006. The original charge was upheld in a retrial and the death sentence was reissued in 2012.

Byron Eugene Scherf, who was convicted in 2013 of aggravated first-degree murder for the murder of Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl in 2011 while she was on duty at the Washington State Reformatory Unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County.