Eye On Boise

Execution date set for Richard Leavitt

A death warrant was issued today for Richard A. Leavitt for the July 1984 murder of Danette Elg in Blackfoot, Idaho; the execution date is set for June 12, 2012. Leavitt's final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected on Monday.

Leavitt was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985; he was re-sentenced in 1990, again receiving the death penalty. A federal judge ordered a new trial in 2000 due to issues with jury instructions, but that order was overturned on appeal in 2004. Additional appeals followed, but they're now at an end. Click below for a full announcement from the Idaho Attorney General's office.

Idaho completed its first execution in 17 years in November, putting triple murderer Paul Ezra Rhoades to death by lethal injection.




For Immediate Release

May 17, 2012

Court sets execution date for Richard Leavitt

(Boise) – Seventh District Judge Jon J. Shindurling issued a death warrant today for Richard A. Leavitt for the July 1984 murder of Danette Elg in Blackfoot, Idaho.  The execution date is set for June 12, 2012.

On July 16, 1984, Danette Elg reported a prowling incident to the Blackfoot Police and identified Richard Leavitt as the prowler.  Ms. Elg was acquainted with Leavitt, having met him through a mutual friend. 

On or about July 17, Ms. Elg was murdered in her home.  She had been attacked with a knife and sustained 15 separate stab and slash wounds. In addition, she had been sexually mutilated.  Following her death, but before her body was discovered, Leavitt contacted the police and friends of Danette Elg and expressed curiosity about her absence.  Leavitt claimed that Ms. Elg’s co-workers and employer called him after she did not appear for work.  These calls could not be confirmed.

On July 21, after obtaining permission from Danette Elg’s parents, Leavitt and Blackfoot Police entered her home and discovered her body in a waterbed, which had also been slashed during the murder.

On September 25, 1985, a Bingham County jury found Leavitt guilty of first degree murder and use of a deadly weapon.  He was sentenced to death by Seventh District Judge H. Reynold George on December 19, 1985.

Judge George held an evidentiary hearing on April 23, 1986, and denied Leavitt’s petition for post-conviction relief on May 1, 1987.

On May 30, 1989, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed Leavitt’s conviction, but sent the case back to district court for resentencing.  The Idaho Supreme Court reversed the sentence, because the trial court failed to “detail any adequate consideration of the ‘mitigating factors’ considered, and whether or not the ‘mitigating circumstances’ outweigh the gravity of any ‘aggravating circumstance’ so as to make unjust the imposition of the death penalty.”  The state appealed to the United States Supreme Court, but the Court declined to hear the state’s appeal.

Judge George held a sentencing hearing on December 21, 1989.  On January 25, 1990, Judge George sentenced Leavitt to death.  The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence on November 27, 1991.  Leavitt appealed to the United States Supreme Court, but the Court declined to hear his appeal.

On April 29, 1993, Leavitt filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in United States District Court for the District of Idaho.  He filed an amended petition on February 20, 1996.

On September 6, 2000, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill denied Leavitt’s claims and dismissed his habeas petition.  Leavitt filed a motion asking the court to reconsider.  On December 14, 2000, Judge Winmill granted habeas relief relating to jury instructions, and ordered the state to initiate new trial proceedings within 60 days or release Leavitt.

The state and Leavitt, on different grounds, appealed Judge Winmill’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

On June 14, 2004, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Winmill’s decision granting habeas relief and ordering a new trial and affirmed his decision denying all other trial claims.  However, the Ninth Circuit sent the case back to Judge Winmill for consideration of Leavitt’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel during his resentencing.

Leavitt twice petitioned the Ninth Circuit for reconsideration.  Both petitions were denied.  Leavitt then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which, in 2005, declined to hear his appeal from the Ninth Circuit decision.

buOn September 28, 2007, Judge Winmill granted habeas relief relating to ineffective assistance of counsel.  The state appealed to the Ninth Circuit. 

On May 7, 2011 the Ninth Circuit reversed Judge Winmill’s decision, concluding that Leavitt was not entitled to habeas sentencing relief.  The Ninth Circuit denied Leavitt’s petition for rehearing on September 13, 2011.

Leavitt filed an appeal to the United States Supreme Court on February 10, 2012.  The Court declined to hear his case on May 14, 2012.


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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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