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Originally published September 9, 2010 at 10:18 PM | Page modified September 10, 2010 at 9:22 PM

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Killer on death row 16½ years is executed

Cal Coburn Brown was executed by lethal injection early Friday morning at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Seattle Times staff reporter

WALLA WALLA — Moments before his execution by lethal injection early Friday morning, Cal Coburn Brown turned toward the family of the woman he tortured and killed in 1991 and said he hoped his death would provide them with closure.

"I understand your feelings and your hatred for me for the actions I took against your daughter and sister," he said while strapped to a gurney in the execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary. "I hope the actions taken tonight give you the closure you seek."

Brown's execution came more than 16 1/2 years after a King County jury condemned him to death for the rape and murder of 21-year-old Holly Washa of Burien. Washa's father, brother and two sisters, along with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, were among those who witnessed the state's first execution since August 2001.

Speaking in a calm, almost relaxed manner, Brown addressed the gallery of witnesses for nearly three minutes. Stephen Sinclair, prison superintendent, held a microphone to Brown's mouth as he spoke. Two bright yellow straps held Brown tightly to the gurney, a lime green sheet pulled up to his neck.

Looking toward the witnesses, he acknowledged the anger of Washa's family, but did not apologize for the slaying.

Brown complained about sentencing disparities, citing the case of Green River Killer Gary L. Ridgway, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of 48 women after he cooperated with authorities, and Wai-Chiu "Tony" Ng, who could someday be released from prison despite his role in the deaths of 13 people in Seattle's 1983 Wah Mee massacre.

"I only killed one victim," he said. "I cannot really see that there is true justice. Hopefully, sometime in the future that gets straightened out."

When he was done, Brown said, "Thank you. God bless you and God bless my family."

The witnesses watched through a window as Brown was administered five grams of the sodium thiopental intravenously. A curtain was closed a few minutes later.

Witnesses said Brown died about a minute and a half after the drug was administered. Brown was pronounced dead at 12:56 a.m.

"Cal Brown died a death that was quick and painless that was the result of almost two decades of due process," Satterberg said. "I think the system worked and was very fair to him."

Washa was slain by Brown in May 1991, just two months after he was released from an Oregon prison where he had served time for assaulting a woman.

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Washa had moved to the Seattle area from a small town in Nebraska with dreams of becoming a flight attendant.

"It's been so long that we have had to deal with all of this, now that it's over I don't have to think about him anymore," a tearful Becky Washa, Holly's sister, told reporters during a news conference after the execution.

Sister Karen Washa held a photograph of Holly as she addressed the media.

"It should have been a private moment," she said of the execution, which was also witnessed by several reporters. "The emotions we were feeling should have been for us and not for the press. The man doesn't know how to apologize. He's a liar."

Brown's final pleas for a reprieve were denied in the hours leading up to the execution as the U.S. and state Supreme Courts, U.S. District Court and 9th Circuit Court of Appeals all rejected the separate efforts to spare the condemned killer's life. Brown's first scheduled execution, in March 2009, was stayed by the state Supreme Court less than eight hours before it was to be carried out.

Brown, 52, dined on a final meal of a combination pizza, apple pie along with coffee and milk Thursday before he was led into the execution chamber.

Belinda Stewart, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said Brown was resigned to his fate and had spent part of the day speaking on the phone with family members as well as his attorneys.

Even as Brown's attorneys fought Thursday to spare his life, Satterberg told reporters Washa should not be forgotten amid the attention being paid to the scheduled execution.

"So many of the details surround the inmate, the offender," he said Thursday afternoon outside the penitentiary. "We want to remember Holly Washa in her prime. She was a young woman in her 20s when she was kidnapped and raped by Cal Brown. He is here tonight because he has earned his trip to death row."

Jeff Ellis, one of Brown's attorneys, also spoke of Washa and her family after the execution.

"May the family and friends of Holly Washa be blessed as they move forward in their lives," Ellis said in a statement. "They suffered needlessly as a result of Mr. Brown's murder of a beautiful, young woman. Our community must reach out and embrace them. And, we must remember and celebrate Holly's life and goodness."

Ellis also spoke out against the death penalty.

"Tomorrow, we will not wake up any safer. Tomorrow, we will not know a more perfect justice. Tomorrow, we will not have taken steps to prevent the next murder."

About two dozen demonstrators voiced similar sentiments as they gathered outside the Walla Walla penitentiary to protest the execution. The state Department of Corrections had called in additional corrections officers to augment security and closed down streets leading to the prison in advance of the execution.

"It's wrong for the state to take the life of a human being," said protester Tim Kaufman-Osborn, 57, of Walla Walla. "I'm not convinced that you right a wrong by killing the perpetrator."

Washa had left Ogallala, Neb., three years before her murder believing Seattle was a prime spot to pursue a career as a flight attendant. She found part-time work as a dispatcher at a Seattle cable-television company and at a Hickory Farms store in Southcenter mall.

Brown carjacked Washa, 21, at knife point near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on May 23, 1991, and forced her to drive to a bank to withdraw money. He then held her for 34 hours at a motel where she was repeatedly raped, robbed, tortured and then slashed to death.

Brown then flew to California, where he was arrested for trying to rape and kill a woman. While being questioned by Palm Springs police, Brown told them they could find Washa's body in the trunk of her Oldsmobile in the parking lot of a SeaTac car-rental agency.

Brown had been released from Oregon State Penitentiary just two months earlier despite the protests of a prosecutor who had helped convict him in 1984 for assaulting a woman.

Brown disappeared after his release, and a parole violation warrant was issued in the state of Oregon on May 23, the same day Washa was abducted.

At the time of Brown's arrest for Washa's slaying, Benton County, Ore., District Attorney Pete Sandrock called him "one of the most dangerous criminals I've prosecuted in the last 16 years."

The state Supreme Court stayed Brown's execution last year after attorneys claimed that the state's three-drug method of lethal injection — an anesthetic, a paralyzer and a heart-attack-inducing drug — constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was prone to error. The decision was a blow to Washa's family, which had driven from Nebraska to Walla Walla to witness the execution.

In July, the state Supreme Court lifted the stay after the state switched to a one-drug method of execution, making the initial argument moot. Washington and Ohio are the only states that use the one-drug method.

Brown's execution marked the first time the state has used the single-drug method of execution. He is the 78th man to be executed in Washington.

The state's last execution was in August 2001, when James Elledge, 58, died by lethal injection for the 1998 slaying of Eloise Jane Fitzner, 47, at a Lynnwood church.

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter and Times archives is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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