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Pizzuto rehearing request denied by Idaho Supreme Court

A room inside the Idaho Supreme Court with multiple empty chairs and two flags.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

The Idaho Supreme Court has denied a request for another hearing in convicted murderer Gerald Pizzuto’s death row case. That means the state can move forward with his execution.

The court ruled in August that the governor has the authority to reject commutation decisions by the Commission on Pardons and Parole.

That’s what happened with Pizzuto. He was convicted of two murders that occurred in 1985 in Idaho County.

Last December, the Commission on Pardons and Parole reduced Pizzuto’s death sentence to life in prison because he has terminal bladder cancer. But Gov. Brad Little rejected that recommendation the same day.

A district court ruled the governor didn’t have the authority to overturn the Commission’s decision, but an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court resulted in overturning that ruling, returning the power back to the governor.

In the majority opinion, the justices said the state legislature determines the powers of the Commission, and state code says the governor can reject commutation decisions in life imprisonment and death sentence cases.

“Rather, the governor — as the only elected official associated with the process — provides an internal check-and-balance in extreme cases where a defendant faces the ultimate punishments of criminal justice: life imprisonment or death,” the opinion stated.

Attorneys for Pizzuto requested another hearing because they believed the court made mistakes in its analysis.

“These errors will not just affect Pizzuto — who will be put to death because of them. They will also create confusion in Idaho law by destabilizing the Court’s settled precedent on how the judiciary executes its most basic duty of analyzing statutory and constitutional law,” the attorneys wrote in their petition for a rehearing.

On Friday, the court rejected that request.

“We are disappointed with the decision of the Idaho Supreme Court to deny rehearing on this important issue. There is still time for Gov. Brad Little to accept the recommendation of his parole commissioners and let Mr. Pizzuto die a natural death in prison,” said Deborah A. Czuba, the supervising attorney for the Capital Habeas Unit at Federal Defender Services of Idaho and one of Pizzuto’s attorneys.

Czuba said Pizzuto's attorneys hope the state will at least wait until after the winter holidays to go forward with the execution.

The Attorney General's Office declined to comment on the potential issuing of a death warrant for Pizzuto.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.