Washington state’s highest court threw out 13 murder convictions yesterday in a much-anticipated ruling that opened the door for many other prisoners locked up on “felony murder” charges — possibly hundreds — to get their convictions overturned as well. The ruling was a crushing but not wholly unexpected blow to murder victims’ relatives, and it left prosecutors across the state facing the prospect of retrying homicide cases or having to accept pleas that could set at least a few prisoners free, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, said the ruling corrects an unfair situation in which many people are serving prison time for what the state Supreme Court deemed “a non-existent crime.” The ruling was the latest fallout from a controversial decision in 2002, when justices ruled that murder charges didn’t apply when an assault resulted in an unintended death. For two years, victims’ relatives and attorneys have waited to see whether that ruling offered a reprieve to hundreds of people who’d been convicted of murder that way, dating to 1976. Yesterday, they learned that it does.