Stay of execution was judicial failure

The facts have to be sanitized for a family newspaper. But if people knew what Cal Brown really did to Holly Washa there would be no ambivalence about the death penalty.

The facts have to be sanitized for a family newspaper. But if people knew what Cal Brown really did to Holly Washa there would be no ambivalence about the death penalty.

On May 23, 1991, as the 21-year-old Washa was leaving work, she was carjacked in the parking lot by Brown, a convicted sex offender who had just been released from prison in Oregon. He did not know Holly Washa; she could have been any young woman leaving work.

Brown eventually took her to a seedy motel near Sea-Tac airport. After robbing her, he tied her to the bed, gagged her and raped her repeatedly, then started torturing her with electrical wires and a hot hair dryer. He did this not for an hour or two but for a day and a half. Brown then threw Washa, who was still alive, in the trunk of her car and headed for the airport. Before catching his flight, he opened the trunk and slashed her throat. He then flew to California and tried doing the same thing to a woman he called for a date when he was attacking Washa. She miraculously survived the multiple stab wounds, dialed 911 and the cops nabbed Brown. While in custody he admitted killing Holly Washa, adding details to the stunned officers that only the killer could have known. He was found guilty and a jury did what it rarely does in this state: imposed the death penalty.

So why is Cal Brown still alive? There is absolutely no doubt about his guilt, none. He’s had more appeals than he deserves: Four times through the state courts and four additional times through the federal system. Friday, it looked like justice had finally caught up with Cal Brown. After another flurry of baseless, frivolous motions and appeals, he was to be executed by lethal injection at Walla Walla penitentiary. Holly’s family drove over from Nebraska to witness the execution.

“I know we cannot erase it out of our memories, but knowing justice has been done and that he can never do this to another person will help ease our minds” the family wrote in an open letter.

Then another sickening last-minute surprise. Eight hours before the time set for his execution, the State Supreme Court, by a single vote, decided that Cal Brown gets a last minute stay for at least another 60 days so the state courts can consider whether the method of execution – lethal injection – is “cruel and unusual punishment.”

This is fraud masquerading as jurisprudence. Just last April, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 7-2 vote, ruled that lethal injection is not cruel or unusual punishment. Washington’s legislature adopted lethal injection as a humane alternative to hanging. So there is no legitimate legal issue here, just another pointless and deliberate delay. These tactics have a number of exasperated lawmakers and media pundits ready to throw in the towel on the death penalty, which is what the anti-death penalty lobby wants: wear them down by driving up the time and cost of imposing the death penalty, to make it an economic issue.

Here’s a better idea. Recognize this cynical strategy for what it is and end it. Pass a law that drastically limits the appeals of death row inmates whose guilt is already established by either DNA evidence or a detailed confession. Until Cal Brown is gone there is no justice for Holly Washa or her family. And if you really want to see “cruel and unusual punishment,” read Holly Washa’s autopsy report.


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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
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