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March 18, 2010
State Supreme Court hears oral argument on Washington’s Capital Punishment Protocol

Olympia - The Washington State Supreme Court this morning heard the cases of three death row inmates—Cal Coburn Brown, Darold Stenson and Jonathan Lee Gentry.

In Brown and Gentry v. Vail and Stenson v. Eldon Vail, the court will consider the constitutionality of Washington’s lethal injection protocol, including:
• Whether or not the inmates’ constitutional challenge to Washington’s three-drug lethal injection protocol is moot now that the state Department of Corrections is using just one lethal injection drug;
• Whether the Department has the authority (as delegated by the Legislature) to draft a capital punishment policy; and
• Whether the acquisition of a lethal injection chemical by the Superintendent of the penitentiary violates the federal or state uniform controlled substances acts.

The state argued that because the inmates all claimed the three-drug protocol was unconstitutionally cruel and because they expressed a preference for single-drug version, their claims should be dismissed now that the Department has adopted a one-drug method.

The state further argued that the Department has the authority to craft its own capital punishment policy because, “unlike administrative rules and other formally promulgated agency regulations,” such policies generally do not create law.

Finally, the state argued that state law authorizes the Department to select and use controlled substances for an execution.

Brown, 51, was convicted of aggravated first degree murder in 1993 for the carjacking, rape and murder of 21-year-old Holly Washa in SeaTac in 1991.

Stenson, 57, was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder for the shooting deaths of his wife, Denise Ann Stenson, and business partner, Frank Hoerner, in Clallam County in 1993.

Gentry, 53, was convicted in 1991 of the aggravated first degree murder of 12-year-old Cassie Holden in Kitsap County in 1988.

"We continue to work to bring justice to the friends and families who lost loved ones at the hands of these convicted killers," McKenna said. “Assistant Attorney General John Samson is an expert in these cases and did a masterful job before the Supreme Court today.”

See the arguments on TVW 

Download court documents:


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