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A federal judge late Thursday put off the scheduled lethal injection of Idaho death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto later this month, once again preventing the state’s first execution in nearly 11 years.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that not enough time was available for him to review at least one of the filings in his court before Pizzuto’s planned March 23 execution. In a three-page stay of execution, he ordered the halt of all state preparations and court actions related to the execution until he has time to “fully consider and adjudicate” the case.
Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, who took office in January, obtained Pizzuto’s latest death warrant last month. The state allowed a prior death warrant for Pizzuto to expire in December when prison officials were unable to obtain lethal injection drugs.
At Winmill’s request, the state acknowledged in a separate legal filing on Tuesday — just over two weeks before the execution date — that officials still did not have the drugs required under state law to carry it out. Lethal injection drugs have become more difficult to locate, as pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies began refusing to sell the chemicals to prison systems for executions across the U.S.
Pizzuto, 66, was convicted of the 1985 murders of Berta Herndon and her nephew Del Herndon at a remote cabin north of McCall. He has been on Idaho death row for nearly 37 years.
Pizzuto is terminally ill with late-stage bladder cancer, among several serious health issues. He has been under hospice care for more than three years.
The most recent death warrant represented the third attempt in the past two years to execute Pizzuto — and the fifth time overall since his 1986 conviction and death sentence. Pizzuto’s attorneys with the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho filed a separate legal complaint that repeatedly scheduling their client’s execution represented cruel and unusual punishment, violating Pizzuto’s constitutional rights.
The Idaho Statesman has requested comment from Pizzuto’s attorneys and the attorney general’s office in response to Thursday’s stay of execution.
“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 warrant. “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,” he added.
Labrador also helped draft a bill this legislative session that aims to add a firing squad as a backup method of execution when lethal injection drugs are unavailable. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, passed the House and awaits a Senate committee hearing as early as next week.
In neither Pizzuto’s recent death warrant nor the firing squad bill did the attorney general’s office inform the Idaho Department of Correction about the efforts, as the Statesman previously reported. IDOC is tasked with carrying out executions.
Winmill provided three weeks for the state or Pizzuto’s attorneys to respond to his order that granted the stay of execution if they disagree with his ruling.