Gov. Jay Inslee grants reprieve in child murderer's execution

Governor Jay Inslee granted reprieve in the death sentence of a convicted Bellingham child murderer.

Key Developments: 

  • 21-year death row inmate Clark Elmore was convicted in 1995.
  • He was convicted of raping and killing his girlfriend's 14-year-old daughter.
  • Gov. Jay Inslee pledged two years ago to halt executions while he's in office.
  • Prosecutor tried to persuade Inslee to not issue reprieve 

Background on Elmore's case

In a taped confession, Clark Elmore told police he attacked Christy Ohnstad, 14, when she threatened to report him for molesting her when she was younger.

>> Related: US Supreme Court rejects Clark Elmore's death penalty appeal

After raping and killing her and dumping her body near Lake Samish, Elmore criticized law enforcement for doing too little to find the girl — and even organized a search party to look for her.

He then fled to Oregon, intending to steal his twin brother's identity, before deciding to return to Bellingham and turn himself in six days after the slaying.

>> Related: PHOTOS: Who is currently on death row in Washington State?

As with many death penalty cases, the courts have heard numerous appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal in October, a decision that drew a dissent from Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They argued that Elmore's trial lawyer that failed to investigate evidence that the defendant had brain damage.

Inslee and the death penalty 

Gov. Inslee's pledged two years ago to halt executions while he's in office, and he was just re-elected.

Though Inslee vowed to halt executions, the death penalty remains on the books. Once Inslee leaves office, another governor can choose to restart executions at the maximum security prison in Walla Walla, where Elmore has been housed for two decades.

Read Inslee's statement below. 

About Elmore's execution date

Elmore had an execution date in less than one month.

Whatcom County prosecutor Dave McEachran went to Olympia last week to try to persuade Inslee to make an exception for Elmore.

Read McEachran's statement below.

He acknowledged to the Bellingham Herald that his effort was a long shot. But he said he brought the case file and crime scene photos to show the governor the horror the jurors saw before condemning Elmore to die.

Since Inslee's pledge, Elmore is the first of Walla Walla's nine death row inmates to exhaust every appeal in the higher courts.

Gov. Jay’s Inslee office sent the following statement to KIRO 7 News:

Under state law, Article III, Section 9 of the Washington Constitution and RCW 10.01.120,  the governor is granted the authority to issue reprieves — or stays of execution— and, consistent with his intent to issue a moratorium on death penalty executions, Governor Inslee has issued a reprieve in Clark Elmore's case. This action does not commute Mr. Elmore's sentence nor issue a pardon and he will remain in the State Penitentiary in Walla Walla for the rest of his life. In recent weeks the governor spoke with the Whatcom County prosecutor, who asked the governor to reconsider his position, as well as the victim's family who expressed a preference to see Elmore serve life in prison.

Governor Inslee has been very consistent that his moratorium on the death penalty cases in Washington isn't about individual cases. As he stated when he announced the moratorium in 2014 the action is based on the governor's belief that the use of capital punishment across the state is inconsistent and unequally applied – sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.

The governor urges the state legislature to end the death penalty once and for all.

Prosecutor David McEachran released a statement to KIRO 7 News: 

"I am disappointed that after 21 years of appeals in which the sentence of death has been upheld by the highest courts in the State and the United States the Governor has derailed the sentence. The Governor has expressed his concern about the application of the death penalty on issues that the Supreme Court has already ruled in favor of the statute. His power to issue a respite must be for good  cause and not just an unwillingness to allow a death sentence to proceed. I don't  believe his stated reasons constitute good cause. I find his pronouncement and justification disappointing."

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