Washington has had a moratorium on executions since 2014, but the ruling makes it the 20th state to do away with capital punishment by legislative act or court decree.
The Supreme Court in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington on Thursday ended use of the "racially biased" death penalty and immediately converted all death sentences to life imprisonment.
The news is welcome, but not particularly surprising.
Four other justices on the bench, in a concurrence, wrote that while they agreed with the majority's conclusions and invalidation of the death penalty, "additional state constitutional principles compel this result".
Gov. Jay Inslee, left, addresses a news conference with Attorney General Bob Ferguson following an earlier announcement that Washington's Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state's death penalty, October 11, 2018, in Olympia, Wash. "When the ultimate decision is death", he said in his official statement, "there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system".
"This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice", said Inslee, commenting on the ruling.
Gregory, according to the AP, was convicted in 1996 of the rape, robbery, and murder of 43-year-old Geneine Harshfield.
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"Today's decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington".
"We have been researching this issue for more than five years, and the evidence is clear and compelling that black defendants are far more likely to be sentenced to death than other similarly situated defendants in Washington's capital cases", UW sociology professor Katherine Beckett, one of the study's authors, says in an email.
In New Hampshire and Nebraska, lawmakers banned the death penalty but saw those decisions overturned by veto or referendum. "The court recognized that Washington state's death penalty is broken".
"The Washington State Supreme Court today declared the state's scheme of capital punishment unconstitutional on the ground that it is infected with racial bias that influences the decisions about who should live and who should die", said Jeff Robinson, deputy legal director Trone Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union. Its eight prisoners on death row are now serving life sentences.
"This is bad", Kathleen O'Bert said after the ruling.
Earlier this year, the state Senate passed a measure abolishing the death penalty, but the House didn't pass it. Washington has executed 78 people since 1904, all men, but no one since 2010. "Next session, I will again propose legislation repealing the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole".
In its ruling Thursday, the high court did not reconsider any of Gregory's arguments pertaining to guilty, noting that his conviction for aggravated first degree murder "has already been appealed and affirmed by this court". Reuven Carlyle, who had been a sponsor of those previous attempts, said in a text message. A jury imposed the death penalty in about 30 of those cases.