by Shelley K. Simcox
Although Washing- ton’s death pen- alty predates state status, the penalty’s vulnerability to chang- ing political tides and
legal challenges has led to repeated
abolitions followed by re-enactments.
With each resurrection, the death penalty statute emerges as more narrowly
circumscribed to hold up against legal,
political, ethical, and moral challenges.
A current moratorium by Governor Inslee and introduction of bills to abolish
the death penalty, along with recent
renewed pushes by various organizations to end the death penalty, render
the penalty’s status uncertain.
The first record of a hanging goes back
to 1849, when the territory that is now
Washington state hanged two Native
Americans for murder. In 1854, the Territorial Legislature first enacted the
death penalty statute. In 1858, Nisqually
Chief Leschi was executed on a gallows at Fort Steilacoom for the murder
of American soldier Colonel A. Benton
Moses (History Link File 5145, www.
historylink.org). Leschi had signed the
Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854 under
protest. He had probably led about 300
troops against the United States and settlers in the 1855 and 1856 Indian Wars.
Washington Becomes a State
Washington became a state in 1889. The
On Again, Off Again
State Legislature changed the statute in
1901 to require executions to take place
at the State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Previously, executions took place pub-
licly in the counties where defendants
had been convicted. Historical records
disagree on what constituted the state’s
first execution. Wikipedia lists it as Jan.
31, 1902, when Lum Yu, an immigrant
Chinese cannery worker, was hanged for
the murder of Oscar Bloom, a white bully
who had assaulted and robbed him while
playing cards. However, historylink.org
reports that Washington carried out its
first execution on May 6, 1904, hanging
Zenon “James” Champoux for the mur-
der of Lottie Brace in Seattle on Nov. 5,
1902 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 6,
1904, “Champoux Pays Penalty Today”).
Champoux was a French Canadian pros-
pecting in Alaska when he met enter-
tainer Brace who was 18. After promis-
ing to marry him, Brace left for Spokane
and Seattle, working as a dance hall girl.
Champoux found her at a theater with her
sister. When she rejected his advances,
he stabbed her with his knife in front of
witnesses. She died later that day.
Between 1904 and 1911, Washington
executed 15 people. In 1911, the State
Legislature became swept up in a wave
of liberal reform and Seattle State Rep.
Frank P. Goss offered a bill to abolish
the death penalty as reported in the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer article “Goss
Wins Fight Against Hanging.” It was
In 1913, the bill was filed again, and after
hot debate, Washington abolished the
death penalty. In 1919, a more conservative Legislature re-enacted the death
penalty. In 1932, Washington conducted
its first double execution and executed its
youngest person when it hanged 17-year-
old Walter Dubuc and his 35-year-old
co-defendant Harold Carpenter (Seattle
Daily Times, April 14, 1932, “Double
Hanging at Walla Walla Set for Tonight”). A third defendant, a mother of
two, received a life imprisonment sentence. The three robbed an 85-year-old
Thurston County farmer, Peter Jacobson, at his home, fleeing after Carpenter
bludgeoned Jacobson to death with a rifle
butt. The only other double execution
took place in 1953, when brothers Tur-man and Utah Wilson were executed for
kidnapping and murdering 18-year-old
Jo Ann Dewey of Battleground.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court in
Furman v. Georgia invalidated the death
penalty, finding that its discriminatory
imposition and carrying out constituted
cruel and unusual punishment in viola-
tion of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amend-
ments. In 1975, Washington abolished its
death penalty statute. Thereafter, voters
passed an initiative to reinstate the pen-
alty, making it mandatory for aggravated
murder in the first degree. U.S. Supreme
Court rulings in Woodson v. NC and Rob-
erts v. Louisiana invalidated laws that
mandated death sentences. In response,
Washington modified its statute to give
detailed procedures for imposing the sen-
tence. However, Washington Supreme
Court decisions in State v. Martin, 94
Wn.2d 1, 614 P.2d 164 (1980) and State v.
Frampton, 95 Wn. 2d 469, 627 P.2d 922
(1981), found the new statute unconsti-
tutional because of guilty plea issues. In
1981, the current law was passed to cor-
rect constitutional defects.
On Jan. 5, 1993, Washington resumed
the death penalty by hanging Westley Al-
lan Dodd (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan.
5, 1993, “Appeal Fails: Dodd Hanged”).
A Clark County jury convicted Dodd of
molesting and stabbing to death 10-year-
old William Neer and his brother Cole,
11, in a Vancouver park in 1989. It was the
state’s first execution since 1963. Dodd
confessed to those crimes and to stran-
gling and raping four-year-old Lee Isli.
He kept a diary of his crimes document-
ing more than 50 acts of child molesta-
tion. Dropping his appeal, he requested
hanging, saying he deserved to die the
same way he had killed his third victim.
The American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) sued to stop the execution, op-
posing hanging as an execution meth-
od. The State Supreme Court upheld
the law. However, a Thurston County
Superior Court judge granted some
concessions. The state was ordered
to conduct the hanging in full view of
witnesses instead of having a curtain
The Death Penalty