YAKIMA - In a state in which executions are uncommon, Cal Coburn Brown's lethal injection Friday will be the first time since 2001 that Washington has carried out its capital punishment.
Barring a last-minute stay of execution from the state or U.S. Supreme Court, the 52-year-old will become the first death row inmate in the state to die by a one-drug method of execution, a recently changed protocol from a three-drug cocktail.
Washington is the second state, after Ohio, to change to the one-drug method.
Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday denied clemency for Brown, who had petitioned for his death sentence to be commuted to a life sentence. The governor said she found “no basis to change the death sentence that was imposed by the jury in accordance with the laws of our state.”
The state Supreme Court also denied a stay, though Brown’s attorneys immediately asked for an emergency stay and another review. An appeal challenging the qualifications of the state’s execution team is before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Eighteen months ago, Brown, who was convicted in the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman, was just hours from a lethal injection when he received a stay of execution. The state Supreme Court granted the stay because another inmate had been granted a hearing on the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection policy.
Since then, Washington’s execution method has changed, as has the four-member team assigned to carry out the injection. The previous team resigned, fearing its members might be identified after several inmates challenged the state’s previous method and questioned the qualifications of the execution team.
The one-drug protocol is more simplistic, and the new team has the medical expertise needed to carry out the execution, said Dan Pacholke, acting director of the prisons division for the Department of Corrections.
“I don’t have any reservations at all about our readiness or the competency of the folks who are going to handle the medical aspect of this procedure,” he said. “It’s the most severe criminal justice sanction that’s handed down by the courts. It’s supported by the state of Washington, and to ask state workers to carry out this task is significant. I don’t think that weight is lost on anybody.”
Brown confessed to the rape and murder of 22-year-old Holly Washa of Burien during an interrogation by California authorities over an alleged attack of a woman in that state. He surprised investigators with his reply to a routine question: Anything else you want to tell us?
Brown was near the airport in Seattle when he directed Washa to a problem with her car’s rear tire. When Washa opened her door, he carjacked her at knifepoint, then robbed, raped and tortured Washa before killing her.
After confessing to California investigators, he directed police to Washa’s battered body in the trunk of a car.
Prosecutors pointed to the case as one befitting the death penalty, while opponents argue for leniency because of his mental condition. According to court documents, Brown suffers from bipolar disorder, but was not being treated at the time of the murder.
Since 1994, prison staff have prescribed medication to control the condition.
During sentencing, Brown’s defense attorneys argued the murder may have been the result of an untreated mental disorder.
Judith Kay, an ethics professor at the University of Puget Sound who corresponds with Washington’s death row inmates, last visited Brown on Aug. 25. Kay said Brown has always taken full responsibility for his actions and is remorseful, but she questions why mental illness wasn’t a mitigating factor in his sentence.
“When he’s in the grip of this mental illness, it doesn’t excuse what he did, and it doesn’t diminish his responsibility, but should he have received a lesser sentence that would protect society and punish him but not take his life?” she asked.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg dismissed that argument. “He does not suffer from an extreme mental disturbance. He has been diagnosed with a fairly common mental health issue, but it does not excuse what he did,” he said. “It does not explain, nor does it excuse, rape, torture, murder.”
Brown had asked the governor to consider his diagnosis in his clemency request, but Gregoire said Wednesday that the jury considered whether Brown knew right from wrong and was in control of his conduct at the time of the murder.
Brown’s current attorneys did not respond to a request for comment. The Washa family declined to comment.
Brown, of San Jose, Calif., has a history of violent crime. He was convicted of assaults in California and Oregon, and served seven years in an Oregon prison. Brown was released on parole just two months before Washa’s death and the alleged attack on the woman in California in 1991.
Since 1904, 77 men have been put to death in Washington.