Convicted killers Allen Eugene Gregory, left, and Robert Lee Yates Jr.

Convicted killers Allen Eugene Gregory, left, and Robert Lee Yates Jr. The two were among eight men whose death sentences were formally converted to life imprisonment Thursday by the Washington Supreme Court

OLYMPIA — The death penalty is off the table for good in Washington after the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that "it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner."

All eight inmates who had awaited execution in Washington prisons — including Allen Eugene Gregory, who brought his case to the high court — will now remain in custody for life. Among those eight, the decision also affects Robert Lee Yates Jr., the Spokane serial murderer who killed at least 18 women.

"Washington's death penalty laws have been declared unconstitutional not once, not twice, but three times," wrote Justice Mary E. Fairhurst in a decision signed or concurred to by all eight of her fellow justices. "And today, we do so again."

Gregory, convicted of the 1996 rape and murder of 43-year-old Geneine “Genie” Harshfield in Tacoma, has been sentenced to death twice. His first sentence was overturned at the Supreme Court in 2006, but he was retried and resentenced to death in 2012. 

Gregory is one of three black offenders on Washington's Death Row. Fairhurst's decision says the way the death penalty has been applied in Washington — where juries are three times more likely to impose it on a black defendant — violates the state's constitutional ban on "cruel punishment."

“Today’s decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington," said Gov. Jay Inslee, who in 2014 declared a moratorium on the use of capital punishment in the state. "The court makes it perfectly clear that capital punishment in our state has been imposed in an ‘arbitrary and racially biased manner,’ is ‘unequally applied’ and serves no criminal justice goal. This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”

Jefferson Robbins: 679-7013