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Idaho sets June execution date for Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr.

by REBECCA BOONE Associated Press
| May 7, 2021 11:10 AM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho death row inmate Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. has been scheduled for execution by lethal injection on June 2.

A judge signed the death warrant for the terminally ill 65-year-old inmate on Wednesday.

The planned execution was first reported by The Marshall Project, a non-profit investigative newsroom that focuses on criminal justice issues, which said Pizzuto has been on hospice care with bladder tumors, diabetes and other serious medical issues for more than a year.

Pizzuto is one of eight people on Idaho’s death row. He was sent there in 1986 after his murder conviction for the 1985 beating deaths of Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew Del Herndon, 37, at a remote Idaho County cabin where they were prospecting.

Prosecutors said Pizzuto, armed with a .22 caliber rifle, tied the victims’ wrists behind their backs and bound their legs to steal their money. He bludgeoned them both and shot Del Herndon.

In appeals, Pizzuto has argued that he is intellectually disabled and that federal law prohibits the execution of people with intellectual disabilities.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 upheld a lower court’s ruling that Pizzuto failed to show he met the criteria to be considered intellectually disabled.

Idaho has executed three people since capital punishment was resumed nationwide in 1976.

Keith Eugene Wells was executed in 1994, Paul Ezra Rhodes was executed in 2011 and Richard Albert Leavitt was executed in 2012.

Pizzuto and another death row inmate, Thomas Eugene Creech, have sued the state over what they say is a lack of information in the Department of Correction’s execution protocol.

Under the state’s “Standard Operating Procedure” plan for executions, the correction director can revise the execution protocol at any time at his sole discretion.

Pizzuto’s legal team has said that makes it impossible for them to determine how the lethal injection drugs and procedures might violate their constitutional rights.

It’s become increasingly difficult for states to obtain the drugs commonly used in lethal injections.

Major pharmaceutical companies will no longer sell the drugs to prisons for executions, and some states — including Idaho — have turned to compounding pharmacies or purchasing the lethal injection drugs overseas. In both cases, the drugs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Pizzuto’s attorneys have said, and can lead to botched executions.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in that case last month but has not issued a ruling.

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