Idaho Puts Off Execution of Man With Terminal Cancer for Third Time

  • Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr., a terminally ill inmate, was scheduled for execution on March 23.
  • But a federal judge granted a stay of execution until he has time to “fully consider and adjudicate” the case.
  • It comes after the state was again unable to obtain the lethal drugs needed to put him to death.

A terminally ill Idaho death-row inmate’s execution has been stayed by a federal judge after the state was unable once again to obtain the drugs needed to put him to death.

Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr., 67, had been scheduled for execution by lethal injection on March 23.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a stay of execution on Thursday. He ordered that all state preparations and court actions related to the execution be halted until he has time to “fully consider and adjudicate” the case.

At the judge’s request, the state acknowledged in a separate legal filing earlier this week that it still did not have the lethal drugs needed to carry out Pizzuto’s execution, the newspaper Idaho Statesman reported.

It marks the third time in two years that Pizzuto has had an execution date set and then delayed.

A photo of Gerald Pizzuto (left) and his sister Angelinna Pizzuto. A federal judge has stayed Pizzuto’s March 23 execution.
Attorneys for Gerald Pizzuto

Pizzuto was granted a stay in 2021 so the state’s Commission of Pardons and Parole could consider whether to commute his sentence. His scheduled execution in December 2022 was canceled because the state couldn’t get hold of the required lethal drugs.

“Going forward, we hope the state will stop pursuing death warrants before Idaho Correction officials know whether they can carry out executions,” Pizzuto’s attorney Deborah Czuba said in a statement provided to Newsweek.

“This practice is outrageous, and it is torturing Mr. Pizzuto in cruel and unusual ways that clearly violate his Eighth Amendment rights,” she added.

Czuba is supervising attorney of the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Defender Services of Idaho. She said Pizzuto “has had to engage in the traumatic process of dying again and again.

“Already a sick old man, he is haunted by each new execution date and loses track of time and ideas. He dissociates from reality. He is too confused to understand what is happening to him and why, and his sleep, when he can find it, is fitful and full of dark dreams,” Czuba said.

Emily Kleinworth, a spokesperson for Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s office, told the Statesman that Thursday’s order was a temporary setback. Newsweek has emailed Kleinworth for further comment.

Czuba added that the legal questions surrounding Idaho Governor Brad Little’s rejection of the parole board’s recommendation that Pizzuto’s sentence be commuted are not yet fully resolved.

“We are received and grateful that the federal court has stopped Mr. Pizzuto’s execution to determine whether the governor had the power to reject the state parole commissioners’ vote for clemency,” Czuba said.

Pizzuto, who has late-stage bladder cancer, is one of eight people on Idaho’s death row. He was convicted for the killings of Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew Del Herndon, 37, during an armed robbery.

Prosecutors said he approached the Herndons’ cabin armed with a .22 caliber rifle in July 1985. He tied their wrists behind their backs and bound their legs to steal their money before he bludgeoned them both. Another man, James Rice, then shot Del Herndon in the head. Berta Herndon died of the injuries she sustained in the robbery.

In February, an Idaho lawmaker introduced a bill that would bring back the firing squad as a method of execution when lethal injection is not available. The option was removed from Idaho law in 2009 after never being used.

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