Idaho attorney general obtains death warrant for man on death row

Idaho Department of Correction is not in possession of chemicals necessary to carry out execution by lethal injection, director says

By: - February 24, 2023 3:48 pm
Death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto and his attorneys

Idaho death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto, center, attends his clemency hearing on Nov. 30, 2021. Bruce Livingston, left, one of Pizzuto’s attorneys with the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho, sits at his left, with other members of his team also on hand. (Screenshot)

This story was originally published on the Idaho Reports blog on Feb. 24, 2023. 

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office announced Friday it obtained a new death warrant for Gerald Pizzuto Jr.’s execution.

In a news release, the AG’s Office said the state will continue to try and obtain the chemicals necessary for a lethal injection.

The warrant comes after the Idaho Department of Correction had to cancel the previously scheduled execution of Pizzuto in November. IDOC stated it could not obtain the chemicals necessary to carry out an execution by lethal injection last year.

Pizzuto, 66, has been on Idaho’s death row after being convicted in the 1985 deaths of Berta Herndon and her nephew Delbert Herndon outside of McCall. His two co-defendants, William Odom and James Rice, were given lesser sentences for their roles in the crime.

Lethal injection is currently the only legal form of execution in Idaho.

“Idaho law is clear, those who commit the most egregious crimes deserve the ultimate punishment,” Attorney General Raúl Labrador said in the news release. “Pizzuto was sentenced to death. We followed the law and obtained a new death warrant. We understand IDOC is working hard to acquire the chemicals necessary to fulfill this death warrant. However, with every new court proceeding the Herndon family has been forced to re-live these heinous crimes. We hope the legislature will also consider giving the State an alternative method of execution.”

Once a death warrant is signed, IDOC is required to carry out the execution within 30 days.  The new execution date is set for March 23, according to the order signed by District Judge Michelle Evans.

Idaho Legislature considers firing squad as legal form of execution

The state obtained the new death warrant just two days after a legislative committee introduced a bill that would allow Idaho to bring back the firing squad as a legal form of execution.

That bill, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, has not had a public hearing yet and still must go through both the House and the Senate.

“IDOC Director Josh Tewalt has informed the Board of Correction, the Governor’s Office, and the Attorney General’s Office that the Department is not in possession of the chemicals necessary to carry out an execution by lethal injection,” according to an IDOC press release Friday. “Efforts to lawfully source chemicals are ongoing.”

Deborah Czuba, supervising attorney of the Capital Habeas Unit at the Federal Defender Services of Idaho issued the following statement Friday:

“We are devastated and horrified that the state would once again seek a death warrant for Mr. Pizzuto without having any of the chemicals necessary to carry out  his execution. After the prior two execution warrants, it does not make sense. It also demonstrates a clear lack of professionalism and a cruel disregard for the emotional torment it causes Mr. Pizzuto, as well as the stress and anxiety it creates for everyone else involved.

“We find the timing of the warrant particularly curious, given that it was sought by Attorney General Labrador while he advocates for a new law that would bring back the firing squad as a method of execution in Idaho. Attorney General Labrador, who has expressed a wish to spare Mr. Pizzuto’s victims the pain of being pulled into more court proceedings, has needlessly put into motion yet another round of complex and costly litigation at the taxpayers’ expense. This is in addition to several other legal disputes already pending in Mr. Pizzuto’s case in federal and state courts.

“Gov. Brad Little could still spare the citizens of Idaho the expense and trauma of an execution, and all the lingering legal issues, by accepting the clemency recommendation of his parole commissioners, who found it would be better to let Mr. Pizzuto die a natural death in prison than to execute a sick old man who has spent more than 36 years on death row paying for his crimes.”

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