Lawyers seek to block Idaho execution of terminally ill man

Nov 22, 2022, 12:42 PM | Updated: 1:01 pm

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A terminally ill man scheduled to be executed in mid-December for his role in the 1985 slayings of two gold prospectors in Idaho is asking a federal court to block the execution.

Attorneys for 66-year-old Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. asked the court in documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Idaho for a preliminary injunction halting the state’s death warrant, issued last week. The warrant sets Pizzuto’s execution by lethal injection on Dec. 15. But officials said they don’t have the chemicals needed to carry out the execution and are trying to obtain them.

Attorneys with the Federal Defenders Services of Idaho who are representing Pizzuto also, in a related case, filed documents Monday seeking a six-month administrative stay of the execution to allow time for litigation for the preliminary injunction.

The attorneys said that scheduling the execution between Thanksgiving and Christmas makes it more difficult to bring in witnesses and experts who won’t be able to rearrange holiday travel plans.

“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,” the attorneys said in a statement.

Scott Graff, spokesperson for the Idaho attorney general’s office, said Tuesday that the office had no comment on pending litigation.

Pizzuto’s attorneys contend that the state’s protocols involving religious accommodations in the execution chamber need to be revised. They said the state’s procedures ban spiritual advisers from the execution chamber.

Specifically, Pizzuto’s attorneys are asking the court to order Idaho to amend both the state’s execution protocol and the administrative regulation on executions before the state can execute Pizzuto. Changing the state’s administrative regulations typically involves a public process with hearings.

Arguments about a spiritual adviser being allowed in the execution chamber with Pizzuto have been playing out in federal court. Attorneys for Idaho in a court filing Nov. 4 said the state met Pizzuto’s request and agreed to permit a “spiritual advisor, audible prayer, pastoral touching, and the use of religious items in the execution chamber during Plaintiff’s execution.”

Additionally, Pizzuto’s attorneys have also said that Pizzuto has a history of prescription medication that will make the pentobarbital less effective and create the potential for torture, and that he has an increased risk of a painful heart attack before he is sedated.

Pizzuto has spent more than three decades on death row and was originally scheduled to be put to death in June 2021. He asked for clemency because he has terminal bladder cancer, heart disease, diabetes and decreased intellectual function.

The Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole then changed Pizzuto’s death sentence to life in prison. But Republican Gov. Brad Little rejected that recommendation, and the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in August that the governor’s decision to overrule the life-in-prison recommendation was legal.

“Gov. Brad Little can render all further legal proceedings unnecessary by accepting the clemency vote,” Federal Defender Services of Idaho said in its statement.

Pizzuto was camping with two other men near the town of McCall, in central Idaho, when he encountered 58-year-old Berta Herndon and her 37-year-old nephew Del Herndon, who were prospecting in the area.

Prosecutors said Pizzuto, armed with a .22-caliber rifle, went to the Herndons’ cabin, tied their wrists behind their backs and bound their legs to steal their money. He bludgeoned them both, and co-defendant James Rice then shot Del Herndon in the head. Another co-defendant, Bill Odom, helped bury the bodies, and all three were accused of robbing the cabin.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves the chamber at the Capitol in Washingt...

Associated Press

McCarthy rejects Senate spending bill while scrambling for a House plan that averts a shutdown

A government shutdown appeared all but inevitable as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy dug in Thursday.

1 day ago

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)...

Associated Press

Kari Lake reportedly plans to launch US Senate bid in Arizona for seat held by Kyrsten Sinema

Republican Kari Lake will soon launch her campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by independent Kyrsten Sinema, a senior adviser said Thursday.

2 days ago

Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former New Jers...

Associated Press

3rd Republican presidential debate is set for Nov. 8 in Miami, with the strictest qualifications yet

The third Republican presidential debate will be held in Miami on Nov. 8, a day after several states hold off-year elections.

7 days ago

During the equinox, the Earth’s axis and its orbit line up so that both hemispheres get an equal ...

Associated Press

The fall equinox is here. What does that mean?

The equinox arrives on Saturday, marking the start of the fall season for the Northern Hemisphere. But what does that actually mean?

7 days ago

Ray Epps Ray Epps, an Arizona man who became the center of a conspiracy theory about Jan. 6, 2021, ...

Associated Press

Ray Epps, an Arizona man who supported Trump, pleads guilty to Capital riot charge

Ray Epps, the target of a conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge.

10 days ago

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly declined in an interview aired Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, to ...

Associated Press

Trump refuses to say in a TV interview how he watched the Jan. 6 attack unfold at the US Capitol

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly declined in an interview aired Sunday to answer questions about whether he watched the Capitol riot.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Sanderson Ford...

Sanderson Ford

Sanderson Ford congratulates D-backs’ on drive to great first half of 2023

The Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a red-hot first half of the major league season, and Sanderson Ford wants to send its congratulations to the ballclub.



When most diets fail, re:vitalize makes a difference that shows

Staying healthy and losing weight are things many people in Arizona are conscious of, especially during the summer.


Mayo Clinic

Game on! Expert sports physicals focused on you

With tryouts quickly approaching, now is the time for parents to schedule physicals for their student-athlete. The Arizona Interscholastic Association requires that all student-athletes must have a physical exam completed before participating in team practices or competition.

Lawyers seek to block Idaho execution of terminally ill man