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Washington governor suspends use of death penalty, says it's 'inconsistent, unequal'

FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2010 file photo, Mimi Pysno stands in a light rain as she takes part in a candle light vigil outside the Washington State Penitentiary, in Walla Walla, Wash. during the execution of Cal Coburn Brown for a 1991 murder. Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, that he is suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state, but the moratorium does not commute the sentences of people currently condemned to death. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2010 file photo, Mimi Pysno stands in a light rain as she takes part in a candle light vigil outside the Washington State Penitentiary, in Walla Walla, Wash. during the execution of Cal Coburn Brown for a 1991 murder. Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, that he is suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state, but the moratorium does not commute the sentences of people currently condemned to death. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington state's governor said he was suspending the use of the death penalty, saying he hopes it will enable officials to "join a growing national conversation about capital punishment."

Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he came to the decision after months of review and meetings with family members of victims, prosecutors and law enforcement.

"There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment, there are too many flaws in this system today," Inslee told a news conference. "There is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system."

Inslee said the use of the death penalty is inconsistent and unequal.

The moratorium, which he says will be in place for as long as he's governor, means that if a death penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which isn't a pardon and doesn't commute the sentences of those condemned to death. Rather than face capital punishment, death row inmates will simply remain in prison.

"During my term, we will not be executing people," said Inslee. But "nobody is getting out of prison, period."

In Maryland, lawmakers last year did away with the death penalty, becoming the 18th state to do so and the sixth in six years. Colorado's governor last year decided to indefinitely stay an execution, saying he had concerns about the fairness of the system and would be unlikely to allow the delayed case to move forward while he was in office. And Oregon's governor in 2011 issued a moratorium similar to what is now in effect in Washington state.

There have been 78 inmates, all men, put to death in Washington state since 1904.

Nine men currently await execution. The last execution in the state was in September 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for a 1991 murder.

Inslee's action follows a recent decision by the state Department of Corrections, which is changing its protocol to allow witnesses to executions to see the entire process, including the insertion of intravenous catheters during a lethal injection.

The new witness protocol, in its final stages of approval, includes the use of television monitors to show the inmate entering the death chamber and being strapped down, as well as the insertion of the IVs, which had both previously been blocked from public view.

Through public disclosure requests, The Associated Press had sought information about any potential changes to the execution protocols. State corrections officials spoke with the AP about the new procedures late last month.

The change is in response to a 2012 federal appeals court ruling that said all parts of an execution must be fully open to public witnesses. That ruling was sparked by a case brought by The AP and other news organizations who challenged Idaho's policy to block the insertion of IV catheters from public view, in spite of a 2002 ruling from the same court that said every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses.

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Follow Rachel La Corte at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly

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