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Idaho December execution canceled as state can’t find lethal injection drugs

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The Dec. 15 execution of Gerald Pizzuto Jr. has been delayed, as the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) doesn’t have the chemicals to carry it out.

Pizzuto was convicted in the 1985 murders of a woman and her nephew in Idaho County.

IDOC served Pizzuto with a death warrant earlier this month, after the Idaho Supreme Court upheld Gov. Brad Little’s decision to overturn a recommendation for Pizzuto’s clemency, issued by the Commission on Pardons and Parole last year.

On Nov. 16, the same day it issued the warrant, IDOC said it did not have the chemicals needed to carry out Pizzuto’s execution and was working on securing them.

On Monday, Pizzuto’s lawyers with the Federal Defender Services of Idaho said IDOC had missed its own deadline – 20 days before an execution – to obtain the drugs it planned on using. An IDOC spokesperson declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

On Wednesday, IDOC notified the court it still did not have the chemicals necessary to carry out the execution on Dec. 15 and it would allow the death warrant for Pizzuto to expire. Lethal injection is the only legal method of execution in Idaho.

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

Tewalt said the department would still try to secure the chemicals.

An attorney for Pizzuto said Wednesday that his legal team is “greatly relieved.”

“The State’s decision to get a death warrant while being unprepared for an execution led to a tremendous amount of unnecessary and costly litigation, all at taxpayer expense,” said Deborah A. Czuba, the supervising attorney in the Capital Habeas Unit at Federal Defender Services of Idaho, in a press release.

Czuba said the legal team believes Gov. Little can still choose to reduce Pizzuto’s sentence to life without parole – the parole board’s recommendation.

In recent years, states have had more difficulty obtaining drugs used in executions. One drug’s primary manufacturer in Europe stopped selling to the U.S. and other companies have stopped allowing their drugs to be used in executions.

Court records allege Idaho’s last execution, of Richard Leavitt in 2012, involved Tewalt and another IDOC official taking a chartered plane to Tacoma, Wash., where they exchanged $10,000 in cash for the drugs in a Walmart parking lot.

This year, Little signed a bill prohibiting officials from releasing information about where they get drugs used in lethal injections.

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.