Washington families worry about release of inmates amid pandemic

SEDRO-WOOLEY, Wash. -- Some families in Washington said they are reliving their worst nightmare as a lawsuit will be heard at the state Supreme Court.

Columbia Legal Services filed the lawsuit calling for the state to release inmates from prison to reduce their exposure to COVID-19.

Nick Allen is an attorney for Columbia Legal Services. In a statement to Q13 News, Allen wrote, “We support healthy and safe communities and our communities don’t stop at the doors of our state prisons. If we’re to respond effectively to this global pandemic we must ensure that everyone is protected from exposure to COVID-19, including the most vulnerable members of our communities, and that includes people who are incarcerated.”

Columbia Legal Services is asking for the release of inmates over age 50, inmates with an underlying health issue including pregnancy, or inmates with 18 months or less remaining on their sentence.

“We are asking the Court to find that the State has failed to meet its duty to take care of people in its custody. We have asked the Court to appoint a Special Master, a common practice in cases involving prison conditions, who would then clarify who should be released, under what timeline, and then monitor progress,” said Allen.

State officials argue the lawsuit does not consider the severity of the crimes committed.

The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys provided Q13 News a copy of the “Friend of the Court” brief, submitted to the state Supreme Court. Part of the document read, “The Petitioners demand that 2/3 of the prison population be released into the community, a number which includes serial killers and capital murderers.”

A group of people rallied in Olympia supporting the lawsuit. In a petition to Governor Jay Inslee, supporters said, “prison facilities exponentially increases an inmates risks” in the coronavirus outbreak.

A family in Sedro-Wooley is overcome with fear and emotion after learning the lawsuit will be heard at the state Supreme Court. Tonya Fenton and her family were brought to tears, worried the man who killed their loved one, Julie Binschus, could possibly be released from prison. Fenton posted a gut-wrenching video to Facebook expressing her deep concern. Wednesday, the video reached more than 100,000 views in less than 24 hours and the numbers continued to climb.

In 2008, Julie Binschus was shot five times, one of the shots was to the head decapitating her. Isaac Zamora was charged for Julie’s murder. He was also charged for the deaths of five more people during a shooting rampage in 2008, one victim included a Skagit County Sheriff’s deputy. Zamora was sentenced to life in prison for the killings.

“We’ve been hurting for 12 years and now this come up again and make us relive it again, that’s already too much and if he gets out, he will do it again,” said Fenton.

Fenton and her family said they are frightened about the possibility of Zamora being one of the inmates released.

“They just cannot let him go,” wept Trisha Woods, Fenton’s sister.

Moments before Julie was murdered, Fred Binschus, her husband, was shot in the hip and back by Zaomra.

“He said if he ever gets loose, he’s going to finish the job, to finish us off. He said that,” said Binschus.

Binschus, the shooting rampage survivor called the lawsuit disgraceful.

“Even thinking about turning murderers loose and criminals like that and rapists and the ‘Green River Killer.’ I just don’t understand it. It’s not fair and it’s not right,” said Binschus. “Why would there ever be a chance that he should be let go?”

Zamora is currently serving a life sentence in prison. Binschus and his daughters are demanding he stay there for the sake of public safety.

“Isaac he was a cold-blooded killer and he does not need to be released at all,” said Binschus.

“They better not let him out. He will kill more people If he is let out and he is told people that,” said Fenton.

The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the lawsuit, Thursday at 9 A.M. It will be held by video conference only and oral arguments will be live-streamed. Fenton said she and her family will be in Olympia to take a stand against the lawsuit.

“We’re doing this for my mom because she deserves justice,” said Fenton.