Judge delays execution of Idaho inmate Gerald Pizzuto, halts latest death warrant

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — A federal judge late Thursday delayed the scheduled lethal injection of Idaho death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto until later this month, once again preventing the state’s first execution in nearly 11 years.

US District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that he did not have enough time to review at least one of the files in his court before Pizzuto’s scheduled execution on March 23. In a tripartite stay of execution, he ordered the suspension of all government preparations and court proceedings related to the execution until he had time to “fully consider and decide” the case.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, who took office in January, received Pizzuto’s final death sentence last month. The state expired a previous death sentence against Pizzuto in December when prison officials were unable to obtain lethal injectable drugs.

RELATED | Idaho Firing Squad Act Causes Friction Between Attorney General and Prison Officials

At Winmill’s request, the state acknowledged in a separate legal filing Tuesday — just over two weeks before the execution date — that officials still did not have the drugs required by state law to carry out the execution. Deadly injectable drugs have become harder to find as pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies began refusing to sell the chemicals to execution prison systems across the United States

In a statement to the Idaho Statesman, Labrador’s office noted more than a dozen previous legal denials for Pizzuto at both the state and federal levels, including the US Supreme Court. Thursday’s order is a temporary setback to Pizzuto’s claims of violations of his rights, office spokeswoman Emily Kleinworth said.

“We are confident that this matter will come to an expeditious conclusion soon,” the statement said.

RELATED | Idaho could track executions by firing squad. Here’s how much it would cost


Pizzuto, 66, was convicted of the 1985 murders of Berta Herndon and her nephew Del Herndon in a remote cabin north of McCall and has been on Idaho’s death row for nearly 37 years. He also served time in prison on a previous rape conviction in Michigan and was later found guilty of two murders in Seattle after his conviction in Idaho.

Today, Pizzuto is terminally ill with end-stage bladder cancer, alongside several serious health problems. He has been in hospice care for more than three years.

The latest death sentence marked the third attempt to execute Pizzuto in the past two years – and the fifth time overall since his conviction and death penalty in 1986.

After the Idaho Department of Justice obtained Winmill’s stay of execution, Pizzuto was returned to his regular death row at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution outside of Kuna, according to a Friday email from Director Josh Tewalt to IDOC staff, which gave the statesman from back A department spokesman was made available.

“The stay granted by the court effectively invalidates the active death sentence,” Tewalt wrote. “This warrant is about to expire and we will be working with the attorney general’s office to review next steps.”

Pizzuto’s attorneys with the nonprofit Idaho Federal Defense Services said they were “relieved and grateful” that Winmill stepped in to prevent their client’s scheduled execution. Late last month, they filed a separate legal complaint alleging the repeated scheduling of Pizzuto’s execution violated Pizzuto’s constitutional rights.

RELATED | Execution of death row inmate delayed after state can’t get deadly drugs

“We hope that in the future the state will stop prosecuting death sentences before Idaho correctional officers know if they can carry out executions,” Deborah A. Czuba, senior attorney for the nonprofit entity that oversees death penalty cases, said in a statement. “This practice is outrageous and tortures Mr. Pizzuto in a cruel and unusual manner that clearly violates his Eighth Amendment rights.”

Labrador has said that he and his office simply respect state law.

“Idaho law is clear: Those who commit the most egregious crimes deserve the ultimate punishment,” Labrador said in a Feb. 24 statement announcing Pizzuto’s death sentence. “Pizzuto was sentenced to death. We followed the law and obtained a new death sentence.”

Labrador also helped draft a bill during this legislature that aims to add a firing squad as a fallback method of execution when lethal injectable drugs are unavailable. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, has passed the House of Representatives and awaits a hearing by the Senate committee Monday afternoon.

IDOC’s job is to carry out state executions. As the Statesman previously reported, the Attorney General’s office briefed IDOC officials on the Firing Squad Act just days before it was introduced, and also released a public announcement about Pizzuto’s recent death sentence before Tewalt had it in his hands.

“These death sentences are also becoming an extraordinary burden for taxpayers to defray the costs of unnecessary and repetitive litigation,” Czuba said, “as well as a source of secondary stress for all government officials and others involved in the process.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *