WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Nearly two decades after Holly Washa was raped, tortured and murdered by an Oregon convict who had skipped out on his parole, her family is satisfied that the killer has been put to death, but they question why it took so long.
Cal Coburn Brown, 52, spent nearly 17 years on death row before he was executed early Friday by lethal injection for killing Washa in 1991.
As the state's first execution since 2001, Brown's death served as a reminder that Washington remains an active capital punishment state. The use of a new single-drug method went smoothly, likely clearing the way for more executions soon. Seven men sit on Washington's death row, and several murder defendants face death-penalty prosecutions in coming months.
"It's been so long we had to deal with all of this," said Becky Washa, the victim's sister, of Sioux Falls, S.D. "Now it's finally over. I don't have to think about him any more."
John Washa, the victim's father, recalled the killing spree of Charles Starkweather, who killed 11 people in Nebraska and Wyoming during a two-month period in 1957-58. He was executed five months after his capture in 1959.
"He didn't last very long," said John Washa, of Ogallala, Neb. "We should have something changed so it doesn't go out this long."
King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who witnessed the execution with the family, said Brown's death was quick, painless and heavily litigated.
"And it stands in stark contrast to the death he handed Holly Washa," he said. "By any measure, 17 years of appeals is too much."
Last year, The Washa family made the long drive from Nebraska to Walla Walla, but Brown received a stay of execution just eight hours before he was to die. His lawyers filed a number of appeals in recent weeks, including one to the U.S. Supreme Court just a few hours before his death, but no stay came this time.
Instead, Brown was pronounced dead at 12:56 a.m., after a four-member team sent a dose of sodium thiopental through the plastic tubes leading into Washington State Penitentiary's execution chamber.
In a lengthy statement, Brown did not apologize to Washa's family but said he understood their enmity for him. He said he forgave that hatred and hoped the execution would give them closure. He also said the prison staff had been most professional and that he had no complaints about his treatment there.
However, Brown protested sentencing disparities, saying criminals who had killed many more people, such as Green River killer Gary Ridgway, were serving life sentences while he was put to death.
"I only killed one victim," Brown said. "I cannot really see that there is true justice. Hopefully, sometime in the future that gets straightened out."
Brown had argued in his appeals that his mental illness was not adequately considered during his sentencing and that it should bar his execution. According to court records, he suffered from bipolar disorder.
After his comments, Brown, who was lying on his back strapped to a gurney, looked up at the tubes sticking out of the wall and connected to his body. When the drug was administered, his chest heaved three times and his lips shuddered, then there was no movement.
The new one-drug method replaced a three-drug cocktail for lethal injections that had been the focus of appeals by other death row inmates. Washington is the second state in the nation, after Ohio, to adopt the new method.
The execution went as planned and without undue pain, said Belinda Stewart, communications and outreach director for the state Department of Corrections.
"The execution was quick, dignified and humane, as it should be," she said.
Brown's attorney and members of his family were not present, though he spoke with them by phone Thursday. His attorney did not return a message seeking comment Friday.
The Washa family showed little emotion during the execution. Both sisters sat in the front row holding unopened tissue boxes, while brother Roger sat in the back with his father, his arms folded across his chest.
"Closure has finally come to the family," John Washa said. "Why he did what he did to my daughter Holly I guess I'll never understand."
Brown, who was from San Jose, Calif., had a history of violence against women, including a 1977 conviction in California for assaulting a woman with a knife at a shopping center. He also served 7½ years — the minimum sentence — for assaulting another woman in Oregon in 1984. Two months after his release, he skipped out on his parole and traveled to Washington.
Near Sea-Tac airport, he helpfully pointed to Washa's rear tire, indicating a problem. When she stopped to check it out, he carjacked her at knifepoint. For the next 36 hours, Brown robbed, raped and tortured Washa, before stabbing and strangling her.
He confessed to killing Washa while being interrogated in California for an alleged assault on a woman there. He later led authorities to Washa's battered body, which was inside the trunk of a car.