Idaho judge denies request to delay death penalty execution
A district court judge has denied a request from an Idaho man on death row to delay his execution scheduled for December.
Idaho County District Court Judge Jay Gaskill heard arguments Tuesday morning on a motion to stay the execution of Gerald Pizzuto Jr. and issued his decision later in the day.
The Idaho Department of Correction served 66-year-old Pizzuto with a death warrant last week. His execution, scheduled for Dec. 15., would be the state’s first death penalty execution in a decade.
Pizzuto was convicted of two 1985 murders in Idaho County. He also has terminal cancer.
Lawyers defending Pizzuto with the Federal Defender Services of Idaho asked Gaskill to delay the execution until pending legal challenges are complete.
Pizzuto’s legal team has until Jan. 26 to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review an Idaho Supreme Court decision, which found the governor – not the Commission on Pardons and Parole – has the final authority on death row clemency decisions.
“I think it’s sufficient to say this is a real constitutional claim,” Horwitz said.
However, Gaskill sided with the state’s argument that the district court did not have the authority to issue a pause in the execution timeline.
The board ended up recommending to reduce Pizzuto’s sentence to life in prison, but Gov. Brad Little rejected that decision the same day.
Pizzuto’s team appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, which ruled in the state's favor in August.
Gaskill wrote that after this legal process, he was required to sign a death warrant presented by the state, which he did on Nov. 16.
“At this time, Pizzuto is deemed to have exhausted all state remedies,” Gaskill wrote in his order Tuesday.
A footnote expanded that the district court would only be able to issue a stay, according to Idaho code, if a federal order requires it to do so.
Pizzuto’s legal team also filed another motion for a stay this week in federal court.
In this case, they are seeking to delay the execution for at least six months. They said scheduling the execution between Thanksgiving and Christmas would make it difficult to litigate the ongoing claims, as members of the legal team, experts and witnesses would need to rearrange holiday plans and schedules.
“It is simply not feasible for them all to fly to Boise at the drop of a hat occasioned by the Attorney General’s rush to obtain a death warrant,” Federal Defender Services of Idaho wrote in a press release.
When the Idaho Supreme Court denied a rehearing request for Pizzuto in October, allowing the state to obtain a death warrant, Pizzuto’s lawyers asked for his execution to be scheduled in the new year. They said it would make Department of Correction employees participate in a “needless and traumatizing execution during the holidays.”
The legal team is also arguing that lethal injection could amount to torture for Pizzuto because of the medications he’s on for varying medical conditions, which include heart disease, diabetes and bladder cancer.
Last week, the Idaho Department of Correction said it did not have the chemicals necessary for the lethal injection, but that it's working on securing them.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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