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Death penalty abolition advocates applaud moratorium, continue efforts

Shar Lichty, PJALS
Shar Lichty’s work to abolish the death penalty will continue.

Shar Lichty, death penalty abolition organizer for the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS), said she cried tears of joy about Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement on Feb. 11 of a moratorium on the death penalty.

“I had known it was a possibility, but, still, I was surprised.  I have been working since 2006 to abolish the death penalty and since 2009 with the Inland Northwest Death Penalty Abolition Group (INDPAG),” she said.

Nancy Nelson, former co-director of PJALS, in addition to forming INDPAG 30 years ago, had helped establish the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, “so there are deep ties within PJALS on the issue,” Shar said.

INDPAG had expected there would be an execution in 2014, so the moratorium means that while Inslee is governor, “there will be no murders by the state,” Shar said.

“It will give us breathing room and momentum to work on legislation to abolish the death penalty,” she said.  “It gives us hope that public momentum will grow to pressure legislators.

“In his announcement, the governor made good points about equal justice under the law not being served and in raising questions about whether the death penalty is being applied unfairly and unjustly,” she said.

Shar pointed out that unequal application of the death penalty has been evident in the geographic and racial disparity, with half on death row being African-American.

“I came to a moral stance on the issue in my childhood, when I thought people did not have the right to decide who lives and who dies,” she said.

In 2006, the Spokane Community College student awareness league partnered with PJALS to bring Sr. Helen Prejean to speak.  That speech motivated Shar to enter social justice work.

Shar said she is “morally motivated” because the death penalty is unfair, costly and inhumane.  She added that it does not make society safer, it is not a deterrent and it kills innocent people.

The INDPAG and its sub committees will focus on a plan to invite the family of a murder victim for reconciliation to speak in Spokane, challenging the notion that victims’ families need the death penalty to receive justice.

The group also plans to recruit a three-person faith panel to visit congregations for educational programs.

“Most major denominations oppose the death penalty,” she said.

Another educational effort will be a performance of “The Exonerated,” which shares stories of five people exonerated from death row.

So INDPAG’s effort will continue as faith outreach, public education and legislative advocacy.

“For the nation to abolish the death penalty, 26 states need to have abolished it, because the Surpeme Court ruled that the death penalty was cruel, but not unusual treatment.  It will be “unusual,” when 26 states abolish it.  Then the Supreme Court will have to change its ruling,” Shar said.

“There are now 18 states with no death penalty,” she said.

For information, call 838-7870 or email


Copyright © March 2014 - The Fig Tree