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'Disappointed,' says father of murdered 12-year-old girl on death penalty ruling

The Washington state Supreme Court struck down Washington’s use of capital punishment – finding it “arbitrary” and “racially biased.” (KOMO News)

When Frank Holden got the call from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee four years ago he was stunned – the man who killed his 12-year-old daughter in 1988 wasn’t going to be executed anytime soon.

Holden, of Pocatello, Idaho, said Inslee told him he was going to declare a formal moratorium on the state’s use of the death penalty. Jonathan Lee Gentry, who was condemned to death in 1991, was already one of the state’s longest serving inmates.

Holden told KOMO Thursday it was clear the Governor’s mind was made up, so Holden hung up on him. But, he said, he held out a sliver of hope that the moratorium would be lifted after Inslee’s term.

On Thursday, Holden learned that the state Supreme Court took a stronger stand and struck down Washington’s use of capital punishment – finding it “arbitrary” and “racially biased.”

Holden said he was “disappointed.”

“This doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “I’ve been waiting a long time.”

Cassie Holden was out picking flowers near her mother’s Bremerton home in June 13, 1988 when she was attacked. The girl was bludgeoned with a rock, her body found in a wooded area.

Frank Holden said he can’t even imagine how much the state and Kitsap County spent on Gentry’s trials, appeals and to hold him in prison for 30 years.

“You talk about it being more costly [to pursue the death penalty], but the cost is because of the appeals,” he said.

Eight men, two from King County, will be freed from death row to serve sentences of life in prison without the possibility of release because of the high court decision.

Everett attorney Karen Halverson, whose client Byron Scherf is among those eight, said Scherf called her Thursday morning to tell her the news.

Halvorsen wasn’t sure where Scherf was going to be held since he was convicted of killing a Department of Corrections Officer in 2011.

Officer Jayme Biendl was on patrol at the Monroe Correctional Complex when she was strangled to death in the prison chapel.

In an email to KOMO, Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe said the Biendl family is angry.

“They are furious, and of course feel betrayed or completely disregarded by the Governor, and now the court. Their feeling is that this means there is no punishment for killing Officer Biendl. None. Free murder,” Roe wrote.

But for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, the Supreme Court decision is something he was waiting for.

Satterberg calls it “a moment that puts Washington state on the right side of history, puts us in the national trend of getting away from the death penalty and we will not suffer at all in public safety.”

Satterberg, in his more than 30 years working in King County, has been part of the teams prosecuting some of the state’s most notorious killers. He said he had an “ah-ha moment” in 2015.

King County had spent more than $15 million prosecuting and defending a Carnation couple who murdered six people on Christmas Eve 2007 and a Seattle man who killed Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton on Oct. 31, 2009, still death penalty had little to no support by jurors, Satterberg said.

“That was my a-ha moment. This isn’t working. It’s costing a lot, it’s putting victim families through the wringer and we don’t need it,” Satterberg said.

It was then that Satterberg’s office stopped pursuing the death penalty.

“The alternative is an actual death sentence. You go to prison and you never go out and you’re going to die there,” Satterberg said.

Washington is now among twenty states to ban or suspend the death penalty. The last inmate executed here was Cal Coburn Brown in 2010 for the murder of Holly Washa in King County.

Satterberg witnessed that execution at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

“It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t wonderful and after we watched this happen Holly’s sister said to me ‘well now we don’t have to think about him anymore’,” Satterberg recalled.

Satterberg believes the new sentence for the worst of the worst killers – life in prison without release – will give families closure sooner.

“The men on death row have done horrific things and the two cases that are from King County who are still there killed seven women and children,” he said. “Without the death penalty, we can give them [victims’ families] that certainty within three to four years.”

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