2/15/17 Powerful Testimony to House Judiciary Committee
Chair Jinkins, Honorable Members of the committee, my name is Dick Morgan, recently retired Secretary of the Department of Corrections. I am here today with former Secretaries Deacon Lehman and Mr. Vail to testify in support of the bill to abolish the death penalty. I speak on behalf of myself and four other previous Secretaries in support of the bill. Each of us has been involved in at least one of the five executions carried out in this state since 1993. We are the only Secretaries to have been involved in an execution in this state in modern times and we are all in agreement that it should be abolished.
On January 5, 1993, Wesley Allen Dodd was executed by hanging. Chase Riveland was the Secretary and gave the order to proceed. I was in the execution chamber.
On May 27, 1994, Charles Campbell was executed by hanging. Chase Riveland was the Secretary and gave the order to proceed. I was in the execution chamber.
On October 13, 1998, Jeremy Sagastegui was executed by lethal injection. Joe Lehman was the Secretary and gave the order to proceed.
On August 28, 2001, James Elledge was executed by lethal injection. Joe Lehman was the Secretary and gave the order to proceed. Eldon Vail and I were both in the execution chamber.
One September 10, 2010, Cal Brown was executed by lethal injection. Eldon Vail was the Secretary and gave the order to proceed. Dan Pacholke was in the execution chamber.
These five Secretaries, Chase Riveland, Joe Lehman, Eldon Vail, Dan Pacholke and myself were the only Secretaries involved in an execution in the State of Washington since 1963. Together we represent over twenty years providing leadership to the Washington State Department of Corrections. We speak in unison today asking that this bill to abolish the death penalty be approved.
You will hear testimony today detailing all the reasons why the death penalty should be abolished and we agree with those reasons. The death penalty is not consistently applied—race and the location where the crime was committed too often figure into the equation. The death penalty is expensive, absurdly so. The death penalty is not applied fairly and consistently. The five of us can personally attest to having known hundreds of inmates whose crimes were as bad or worse than those of the inmates sitting on death row.
But we speak to you from our personal perspectives, one gained by having to actually implement executions. Each of us has been up close and personal to what it takes to kill another human being in our custody. We have been in the death chamber as nooses have been put around inmates’ necks or when they have been strapped to a table for lethal injections. We have given the order to proceed with the execution.
Dozens of correctional staff are involved in carrying out an execution—officers, sergeants, lieutenants, administrators, lawyers—and each of them, including their families, are all impacted. We have witnessed visibly shaken staff carry out their duties as state employees to kill another human being and we have done our best to take care of them and take care of ourselves both before and after the execution is over. Each of us has had to wrestle with our own personal and religious beliefs in order to do our jobs. It is not easy and it does not pass without serious introspection and different degrees of personal pain.
Our experience has taught us that no one—not an individual or the state—should have the power to end another’s life as a function of government. Ultimately, the death penalty is not about whether a given person deserves to live or die — we believe it’s about whether government should be making that call.
Ultimately, though, we believe and stand together to tell you that it is simply wrong to intentionally take a human life — it is wrong for the criminal and it is wrong for the state. It is time to end the death penalty and Washington State.
We would be happy to respond to questions.