OLYMPIA With the Governor likely later today to sign legislation making lethal injection Washington's presumed method of execution, State Attorney General Christine Gregoire will ask a federal appeals court next week to dismiss a ruling that convicted double murderer Mitchell Rupe is too heavy to hang.
"Once the Governor OK's this new law, it will make the question of whether Mitchell Rupe is too heavy to hang a moot issue," Gregoire said.
The AG's Office is appealing a 1994 lower court ruling that execution by hanging would violate Rupe's 8th Amendment rights. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will be asked to dismiss U.S. District Court Judge Tho mas Zilly's decision that Rupe, who at the time weighed more than 400 pounds, could not be hanged without the threat of decapitation.
Even if the 9th Circuit grants the AG's motion, the court still must determine whether Rupe's constitutional rights were violated because a trial judge 11 years ago refused to allow the admission of evidence from a poly graph test.
Gregoire also will urge the Walla Walla County Superior Court to rule on a case she filed last year to obtain an interpretation of the former law in which hanging was the presumed method of execution. That case presents the question of whether a death row inmate, by refusing to act, can elect one method of execution and then, at the same time, attempt to avoid execution by challenging the constitutionality of the selected method of execu tion. Rupe is one of three defendants in that action.
The AG also will seek to dismiss a claim by convicted murderer Brian Lord, whose challenge to the constitu tionality of hanging is before the U.S. District Court. Lord, 35, kidnapped, raped and murdered a 16-year-old Kitsap County girl in 1986.
The new law, expected to be signed today at 4 p.m. by the Governor, will become effective June 6. Inmates on Death Row now will have the option to choose hanging. If they do not choose, however, their death sentences will be carried out by lethal injection.
Washington is one of only two states which still allow hanging as a method of execution. Montana, the other state, has not used it since 1943. More than 22 states have adopted lethal injection as a method of execution.
Since 1992, the state has been engaged in a constant, costly, time-consuming defense of hanging as a method of execution, said Gregoire.
"Over the last four years, our office has spent thousands of hours and more than $320,000 to defend hanging as our primary method of execution," she said. "In addition to unnecessary costs to taxpayers, the old statute caused significant public frustration with the judicial system, unacceptable delays in carrying out sentences and a lack of closure for families of victims."
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Contact: Paul Weisser, Assistant Attorney General (360) 586-1445
Dean R. Owen, AG's Public Affairs Office