Debbie Regala

Debbie Regala
Former State Sen. Debbie Regala spent nearly two decades representing the people of Tacoma in WA’s State Legislature, serving six years as a House Representative and the next 12 as a Senator before retiring in 2012. Ending the death penalty in Washington has always been a priority issue for Sen. Regala, for policy as well as personal reasons. Her brother-in-law, Tony, was murdered in 1980, and the case remains unsolved. During her last year in the Senate, she served as the prime sponsor of SB 6283, which sought to replace the death penalty with life incarceration without the possibility of parole. Her bill was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee but did not pass out of committee. Sen. Regala’s testimony offered her unique perspective both as a state legislator and also as a murder victim’s family member.
Having had someone in my family murdered caused me to think even deeper about what the death penalty accomplishes. And quite frankly, I strongly believe that it doesn’t accomplish anything for several different reasons. It doesn’t bring the person back, it doesn’t make the victim’s family and friends feel any better whatsoever…

Having had someone in my family murdered caused me to think even deeper about what the death penalty accomplishes. And quite frankly, for several reasons, I strongly believe that it doesn’t accomplish anything positive. It doesn’t bring the victim back, nor does it heal the pain for the victim’s family. In fact, many family members of victims have told me that the process of determining whether or not to seek and implement the death penalty actually reopens their pain over and over.

As a lawmaker, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who was on death row for about 10 years before it was proven that she was innocent. This was not in Washington State but in Florida. When she was proven innocent, she was released. We hear all the time that there might be someone who is innocent that could be wrongly executed. Actually meeting someone who had been through that experience was very powerful. That’s why it is so important to go through the process of review before implementing the death penalty. But that process is lengthy and expensive. Those taxpayer dollars could be put to much more positive uses.

Another issue is that, unfortunately, the death penalty has now become a bargaining chip, which undermines equal justice under the law. It is immoral to strike a bargain with someone’s life by saying, “We’ll take the death penalty off the table if you provide this information.” If someone committed one murder and has no information that’s of use to the authorities, and thus they have no bargaining power, they end up getting the death penalty while a multiple murderer does not. This is a perverse incentive and is absolutely unfair. There are other ways to get the information we need.

We have also created a long list of what types of murders are eligible for the death penalty. In my opinion every murder is terrible, but we have singled out who can get the death penalty depending on who their victim was. For example, the murder of a police officer or an investigative reporter can qualify for the death penalty, but if the victim is just an average citizen, it does not qualify. Again this is unfair, undermines equal justice and is inconsistent with the concept of the worst of the worst. This is why I have been vocal about not expanding the use of the death penalty. We have to stop making a long list of when the death penalty applies and when it does not. We simply should abolish its use.

I have also become aware of the pain inflicted on those who are asked to carry out executions. It is worth noting than many who have been involved in implementing the death penalty have become vocal in their desire to end the use of this punishment. And the reality is that when the state follows through with an execution the pain of losing a family member is imposed on another family. Yes, maybe that person is less worthy in a lot of people’s minds, but their family members still care about the person. And so that family also becomes innocent victims.

I have continued to work on this issue so more and more people can share their thoughts about this important public policy. Fortunately, few people have had to confront the reality of the death penalty in their personal life. There is much to ponder. I know when people are able to talk and share with others who have had different life experiences, public policy can be changed for the better.