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Idaho Cancels Execution Because It Cannot Obtain Lethal Injection Drugs

by Jo Ellen Nott

When it issued a death warrant for convicted murderer Gerald Pizzuto, Jr. on November 16, 2022, the Idaho Department of Corrections (DOC) admitted it did not have the drugs needed to carry out the execution. By its own self-imposed deadline, DOC must have lethal injection drugs on-hand 20 days before an execution is scheduled to occur. So Pizutto’s was unlikely to happen as planned on December 15, 2022. Sure enough, 15 days before that, it was canceled.

“I believe it is in the best interest of justice to allow the death warrant to expire and stand down our execution preparation,” DOC Director Josh Tewalt wrote in an update to the state Board of Correction.

Pizzuto’s legal team believes Gov. Brad Little (R) can still commute Pizzuto’s sentence to life without parole.  But it was Little who ignored a 2021 clemency request for Pizzutto from the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, a decision that the state Supreme Court upheld on August 23, 2022. See: State v. Pizzuto, 518 P.3d 796 (Idaho 2022).

Sentenced for the 1985 murders of a woman and her nephew who went prospecting near his campsite in Idaho County, Pizzuto has been on death row for 36 years. He is now terminally ill with bladder cancer and confined to a wheelchair.

During his clemency hearing, two of Pizzuto’s sisters testified that as a child their brother was raped, beaten unconscious with boards, a horsewhip, and other objects, and psychologically abused by being forced to sleep outside and eat from a pig trough in the basement. In 2012, a court ruled that Pizzuto’s IQ test scores — ranging from 60 to 92 — did not prove a mental disability that would prevent him from being executed.

In recent years, the 24 states which allow the death penalty have had more difficulty obtaining drugs used in executions. One key drug, sodium thiopental, has been in short supply since 2010, when the drug’s suppliers began refusing to sell it for lethal injections over concerns about having their product associated with executions. That has left states scrambling for alternative ways to execute prisoners.

Some have turned to compounding pharmacies to obtain the needed chemicals. But those pharmacies are not regulated by the FDA, and their use has been implicated in botched executions and unnecessary deaths. Little signed a bill in 2022 prohibiting state officials from releasing information about where they obtain drugs used in lethal injections. To carry out the execution of Richard Leavitt in 2012, Idaho’s last, Tewalt reportedly chartered a flight to Tacoma carrying a briefcase with $10,000 in cash, exchanging it for the drugs in a Walmart parking lot. [See: PLN, Dec. 2022, p.50.] 

Sources:  Boise State Public Radio, KTVB, Vox

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