How The Murder Of A Loved One Forced One Death Penalty Foe To Reexamine Stance

Feb 27, 2014

Former state Sen. Debbie Regala says when her brother-in-law was strangled in 1980, her family had to ponder what they would want to have happen when the murderer was found.

She says she was angry, but in the end, it didn't change her long-standing opposition to capital punishment.

"Executing them doesn't make me feel any better. It doesn't bring them [the victims] back. It doesn't heal the terrible hurt that you feel," she said during an interview in her Tacoma home.

On the wall of Regala's living room hangs an artwork by her late brother-in-law, a large painting of bamboo stalks with black and brown leaves.

Unfortunately, says Regala, his murderer was never found; the Seattle case remains unsolved.

In addition to her personal tie, Regala says she approaches capital punishment from a policy perspective. As a legislator who served in the Washington state Legislature from 1994 to 2012, she says she looked at what makes good public policy.

"Getting somebody off the street and putting them in prison for the rest of their life does accomplish public safety," she said.

Also, she says, she believes in the principal of equal justice under the law — something she thinks doesn't always happen because the death penalty ends up being used as a bargaining chip so that people with enough information to trade, like the Green River killer, don't end up with a death sentence.

While in the Legislature, Regala sponsored a bill that would have changed the death penalty into life without the possibility of release. The bill never made it out of committee. 

Regala says she was thrilled when Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington.

"It allows us to have this discussion," she said.