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Posts tagged: Richard Leavitt

Media wins execution access case, state pays attorney fees and costs

The state of Idaho and a group of Idaho news media have agreed that all Idaho executions should be open to media witnesses from start to finish, ending a lawsuit brought by the media, and the state has paid the news media's attorney fees and costs of more than $29,000 for the suit. Both sides in the lawsuit today filed a stipulation in federal court declaring that the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in the case settles the issues raised, and should be the practice for all future Idaho executions; the appellate court sided with the media.

The stipulation, submitted today to U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, says witnesses to executions in Idaho will “observe the entire execution from the moment the inmate enters the execution chamber through, to and including, the time the inmate is declared dead.” The two sides also agreed that the state should pay the news media's attorney fees and costs for the case, which came to $29,297; that has now been paid.

The lawsuit was brought by 16 Idaho news outlets and organizations, led by the Associated Press, and also including the Idaho Press Club and The Spokesman-Review. The media groups charged that the state’s execution witness access rules, which prohibited witnesses, including the news media, from seeing the early portions of lethal injection executions, directly violated a 2002 9th Circuit decision. The court agreed. You can read my full story here at

What the witnesses saw…

“The six correctional officers, wearing surgical masks and stationed three to a side like pallbearers, lifted the inmate off the gurney and strapped him to the execution table inside the Idaho state prison on Tuesday,” AP reporter Rebecca Boone, who witnessed today's execution of Richard Leavitt, writes in her account. “They attached intravenous lines to Richard Leavitt's arms and electrodes to the convicted killer's chest and stomach to measure his breathing and heart rate.”

“A week ago, no one aside from the prison officials would have seen the state's lethal injection process in its entirety. But a federal judge ordered it open, siding with more than a dozen Idaho news groups, including The Associated Press, who sued in federal court for access.” Click below for her full article, which includes this comment from state Corrections Director Brent Reinke: “I am grateful that we have four media witnesses here to tell you what they saw. Our goal was to make this as professional as possible with dignity and respect, and I believe we met that mark.” You can read my full story here at

Leavitt execution completed, ‘procedures carried out as prescribed’

Convicted murderer Richard Leavitt was declared dead at 10:25 this morning, executed by lethal injection. State Corrections Director Brent Reinke said, “The procedures were carried out as prescribed. … The Department of Corrections has fulfilled the obligation that the law requires and that justice demands.”

Four media witnesses who observed the execution described it as quiet and precise. “They appeared to be able to insert the IVs in both arms on the first attempt,” said AP reporter Rebecca Boone. KBOI-TV reporter Scott Logan said, “He was asked if he wanted to make a final statement. He just shook his head.” Added Logan, “I was struck by the military precision with which the escort team brought him into the chamber and the way it was carried out. I didn't see anything to suggest any problems.”

Members of the medical team wore balaclava-style coverings and goggles in addition to surgical garb. Reinke said he was satisfied that their anonymity was protected by those measures. That was an issue the state raised in objecting to allowing witness access to the early phases of the execution, including insertion of IVs; the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the First Amendment requires that representatives of the public be able to view executions in their entirety, ordered the process opened up. Reinke, asked if the big legal fight was necessary given his satisfaction with the open process, said, “In my opinion it was. We learned a lot in this process, and we took the necessary steps to make sure we had a court order before we proceeded.”

Leavitt was executed for the 1984 murder of Danette Elg of Blackfoot. Two of Elg's surviving relatives witnessed the execution; Logan, who sat behind Elg's sister, said in the final moments, as it became clear that Leavitt was dead, she nodded quietly. Leavitt's body will be cremated, and the ashes will be given to his family.

Protesters: ‘Appalled that this killing is being done in our name’

About a dozen protesters had gathered outside Idaho's prison gates by 9 a.m., to protest the execution this morning of Richard Leavitt. “As citizens of this state, we are appalled that this killing is being done in our name,” Mia Crosthwaite of Idahoans Against the Death Penalty told the group, as they gathered in a circle to pray. Crosthwaite, who also protested at the November execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades, said she believes that Idahoans will be no safer with Leavitt dead than confined in prison for life. “We believe that killing people by the state of Idaho is wrong,” she said. “It was wrong for the murder to happen. It is wrong for this killing to happen.” She added, “We hope that our governor looks into his heart … and calls and says, 'Stop.'”

Some of the protesters held signs with slogans including, “Execute justice, not people” and “Cruel and unusual punishment.” A half-hour later, the number of protesters had doubled to about 25.

Reinke: ‘This is not a normal day’

“We're here today to carry out the court order,” Idaho state Corrections Director Brent Reinke announced to the press this morning at an early-morning briefing, in advance of the scheduled execution of Richard Leavitt. He said corrections employees have been preparing for today's procedure since the November execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades. “They take no joy in this duty,” Reinke said. “Their actions reflect their deep respect for the rule of law and their commitment to our system of government.”

Asked the attitude of the condemned prisoner, Richard Leavitt, Reinke said, “His is resolved at this point.” Leavitt has had his attorneys with him in his cell. “They were having an open discussion,” Reinke said. Leavitt had the option of having a spiritual adviser accompany him, but he has not requested one. He has received several mild sedatives since his last meal yesterday at 6 p.m.

All Idaho state prisons are on modified lockdown this morning, with inmates confined to living areas. Said Reinke, “This is not a normal day, as you can well imagine. … We want to make sure that we conduct our business with the utmost professionalism.”

Idaho prepares to carry out second execution in seven months this morning

This is the scene inside the media tent at the Idaho state prison complex this morning, where at 10 a.m., the state is scheduled to carry out its second execution in seven months, inside the Idaho Maximum Security Institution. Richard Leavitt is scheduled to  die by lethal injection for the 1984 murder of Danette Elg. Four media witnesses will represent the public; it is the first time witnesses will be allowed to watch the whole process of lethal injection in the state after a legal challenge by media organizations.

Death row inmates in Idaho and nationwide have challenged lethal injection procedures in part by claiming that the insertion of the IVs can be easily botched, resulting in excruciating pain or other problems, the AP reports. But until now, witnesses in Idaho and several other states were barred from watching the first part of the procedure, including the insertion of IVs.

State witnesses who will be present are Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg; Bingham County Prosecutor Scott Andrew; Bingham County Sheriff Dave Johnson; Mark Warbis, communications director, office of the governor; Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden; and Robin Sandy, chair of the state Board of Correction. The media witnesses are Rebecca Boone, Associated Press; Ruth Brown,  Idaho Falls Post Register; Scott Logan, KBOI-TV; and John Funk, Idaho Press-Tribune.

Idaho has switched its lethal injection procedure to a single drug, a lethal dose of the surgical sedative pentobarbital. Leavitt and three other Death Row inmates had filed a lawsuit challenging the previous three-drug procedure.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects Leavitt’s final appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected condemned Idaho murderer Richard Leavitt's final appeal, clearing the way for his execution, which is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10. Leavitt received the death sentence for the 1984 mutilation and murder of Danette Elg, 31, of Blackfoot. “Mr. Leavitt is calm and meeting with his attorneys and approved visitors,” Idaho Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Ray reported today in an email. “At the visitors' request, IDOC is not releasing their names.”

Said Ray, “For his last meal, Mr. Leavitt was given his choice of any item on the IDOC menu. He chose baked chicken, french fries and milk.”

As Leavitt execution draws near, he maintains innocence claim, but courts unconvinced

As tomorrow's scheduled execution of Richard Leavitt draws near, Leavitt has continued to proclaim his innocence, but officials involved with the 28-year-old murder case say they're convinced of his guilt, as are the courts. Leavitt's blood was found at the scene of Danette Elg's murder, and he received stitches at the local emergency room that night for a cut on his hand, which he claimed he'd cut on a fan. He later said his blood was at the scene of the bloody mutilation murder because he'd had a nosebleed there earlier.

Idaho Falls Post Register reporter Ruth Brown offers a look back at the case in an article here; click below for an article from AP reporter Jessie Bonner on the case. A day before her death, Elg called police to report that Leavitt, who had a violent history, had tried to break into her home. Leavitt's attorneys say the condemned murderer has passed a lie detector test saying he didn't stab Elg; he has lost every appeal. A final appeal was filed yesterday to the U.S. Supreme Court; you can read it here.

State: Execution will be Tues. as scheduled, with the court-required access changes in place

The Idaho Department of Corrections has announced that the execution of Richard Leavitt will go forward as scheduled on Tuesday, with full witness access as required tonight by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Jeff Ray, department spokesman, said, “We'll take the necessary measures to ensure that the execution continues as scheduled. We're still looking it over and figuring out the specifics, but we will do what the court says we need to do, and the execution will continue on Tuesday.” You can read my full story here at

9th Circuit sides with news media, orders Idaho executions opened up

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has sided with the news media, ordering a preliminary injunction to require Idaho to permit full viewing of the upcoming execution of Richard Leavitt, including early stages in which IVs are inserted. “The State of Idaho has had ample opportunity for the past decade to adopt an execution procedure that reflects this settled law,” the appellate court wrote, reversing U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge's rejection of a preliminary injunction. “We fault the State, not the media plaintiffs, for our need to consider this question several days before an execution: the State has missed opportunity after opportunity to bring its execution procedures into compliance with the clear law of this circuit.” You can read the court's 13-page decision here, and read my full story here at

The lawsuit was brought by 16 Idaho news outlets and organizations, led by the Associated Press, and also including the Idaho Press Club and The Spokesman-Review.

Idaho hasn’t changed execution procedures yet; court decision awaited

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has posted the audio online of this morning's oral arguments on media access to Idaho executions; you can listen here. During the arguments, all three members of the 9th Circuit panel - Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, Judge Marsha Berzon, and Judge Stephen Reinhardt - expressed strong concerns about the state's position in the case, which is that witnesses, including the media, should be excluded from the earlier portion of the lethal injection procedure, including the insertion of IVs to administer the lethal drugs. That specifically contradicts a 2002 9th Circuit case that found that the public has a First Amendment right to see the full execution, including those early stages. Four states in the circuit, including Idaho and Washington, haven't been complying with that ruling, but Arizona has just changed its procedure, allowing witnesses to view the early portion via closed-circuit TV. You can read our full story here at

“California's been doing it, Ohio's been doing it, Arizona just announced today they're going to do it,” Berzon told Deputy Idaho Attorney General Mike Gilmore. “At least on a preliminary injunction basis, you have put nothing in the record to show that Idaho is different in this regard - that you haven't done.” The state is arguing that allowing witnesses to see the early stages of the execution would violate the privacy of the condemned prisoner and the sensitivities of his friends and family; that it could impact other Death Row inmates; and that it could identify or stress members of the masked execution team, possibly causing them not to want to participate.

The judges also raised questions about the news media's request for a preliminary injunction being rejected on the basis of timeliness, because Richard Leavitt's execution is coming up June 12. They suggested that the upcoming execution, instead, could make the issue “ripe” for decision. When they questioned whether Idaho would have to change its formal protocol for executions in order to draw open the curtain between witnesses and the execution chamber earlier in the process, Gilmore told them, “You would have to change the procedure, but not the protocol.”

At the close of the arguments, the judges asked Gilmore if he'd like to call the warden and see if Idaho would like to change its procedures without an injunction, while the judges had their lunch and before they started writing their opinion. Within a couple of hours, the court had posted that the arguments are complete in the case and it's under advisement.

Jeff Ray, Idaho Department of Corrections spokesman, said in an email, “We have made no changes to the procedures. We are waiting for a ruling.” He was unable to confirm whether or not Gilmore spoke with the warden today. Gilmore told the Associated Press after the arguments that he would try to reach the warden to see if a policy change could be made in time for next week's execution of Leavitt for the 1984 murder of Blackfoot resident Danette Elg.

Charles Brown of Lewiston, attorney for more than a dozen news media outlets and organizations, led by the Associated Press, that brought the lawsuit, said, “I felt that the jurists listened to our arguments and I felt good about how everything went, but we're waiting for the decision.”

9th Circuit asks why Idaho shouldn’t comply with execution access rules, like other states

There was no ruling from the bench, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has asked Idaho officials to see if they can change the state's execution access rules in time for the June 12 execution of Richard Leavitt, to allow the full procedure, including the insertion of IV's, to be viewed by witnesses. During oral arguments this morning in Pasadena, Calif., Judge Marsha Berzon questioned why Idaho should be an exception when other states have decided that entire executions can be seen by the public. “California has been doing it. Ohio has been doing it. Arizona just announced they are going to do it,” Berzon said. “You haven't put anything in the record that Idaho is different in this regard. That you haven't done.”

The news organizations also took issue with Lodge's finding that the lethal injection protocol could be altered in the future without harm to the parties involved. Charles Brown of Lewiston, attorney for the news media, argued this represented a “profound event.” “The lower court is essentially finding that a First Amendment right can be violated today as long as it is possible for First Amendment rights to be reasserted at some date in the future. Such a finding flies in the face of what our constitutional rights are all about,” Brown said in court documents. Click below for a full report from AP reporters Greg Risling and Jessie Bonner.

9th Circuit asks if Idaho can make execution access changes in time for June 12 execution

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) ― A federal appeals court in California has asked Idaho prosecutors to inquire whether a prison warden would allow full viewing access to an upcoming execution in a case filed by The Associated Press and 16 other news organizations. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit that seeks to strike a portion of Idaho's regulations preventing witnesses from watching executions until after catheters have been inserted into the veins of death row inmates. Idaho Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore says he will try to reach the warden to see if a policy change could be made in time for next week's execution of Richard Leavitt, who was convicted of a 1984 murder. The three-judge panel noted it has already ruled in a California case that every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses.

No clemency hearing for Leavitt

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole says it won't consider a clemency request from condemned inmate Richard Leavitt, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 12. Leavitt was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of Blackfoot resident Danette Elg. Commission director Olivia Craven says the panel decided late Tuesday to deny Leavitt's request for a commutation hearing. Craven says Leavitt was seeking to have his death sentence changed to life in prison. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter received the commission's recommendation without comment. Under Idaho law, only the governor has the authority to grant clemency on death penalty cases, but in order for the governor to do so, the parole commission must first consider the request and make a recommendation to the governor.

News media court case on execution procedures: ‘It’s an access issue’

Here's a link to my full story at on today's developments in the media access execution case, in which a federal judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction against limits on witness access to Idaho's executions, finding that while the news media presented “a strong case on the merits” that the limits are unconstitutional, their timing was poor, because Idaho has an execution coming up on June 12; the news media are appealing the ruling.

“Simply put, the current scheduled execution does not allow adequate time for discovery, an evidentiary hearing, a ruling by this Court and a potential appeal by the non-successful litigant to the 9th Circuit before the scheduled execution date,” wrote U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge. Lodge said he'd like to hold full hearings on the issue, with any subsequent ruling to apply to future executions - but not to the upcoming one of eastern Idaho murderer Richard Leavitt. Leavitt on Tuesday lost a bid in the Idaho Supreme Court to quash his death warrant on due-process grounds; it was the fourth attempt to stay his execution that he's lost in the past week.

“We're disappointed that the judge feels there's not enough time to resolve this before June 12,” said Gary Graham, editor of The Spokesman-Review, one of more than a dozen Idaho media outlets and news groups pressing the lawsuit.  “All of the editors and reporters involved here feel it's critical … that we, the media, have access to this kind of an event. An execution is not something to be taken lightly. … It's an access issue for us, and we feel the public is best served if the media is there as their representative, to report how the process goes.”

Idaho Supreme Court upholds death warrant for Richard Leavitt

The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld a death warrant for Richard Leavitt, who is scheduled to be executed June 12 for the 1984 murder of Danette Elg. In a 10-page opinion issued this afternoon, the justices both affirmed the death warrant, and affirmed a district court decision denying a motion to quash that warrant. Leavitt's attorneys charged that the death warrant was improperly issued, and came as Leavitt still had other appeals pending in federal court. “It is important to note that Leavitt received due process prior to the signing of the death warrant,” the justices wrote, in a unanimous decision authored by Justice Warren Jones. “He received due process from the numerous appeals, petitions for post-conviction relief, and habeas corpus relief that he filed in this Court and in federal court over the last twenty-seven years. The issuance of the death warrant is a natural consequence from numerous courts affirming his guilt and sentence of death.”

You can read the Idaho Supreme Court's decision here. It was the fourth bid to stay his execution that Leavitt has lost in the past week; arguments are scheduled on another Thursday at the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

News media file notice of appeal over Idaho execution access limits

Idaho's news media, led by the Associated Press, have filed a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals of a federal judge's decision today against issuing a preliminary injunction over constitutional problems with Idaho's execution procedure. The 9th Circuit will hear arguments on Thursday. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge today ruled that the case is strong on the merits, but just poorly timed, coming so close to the scheduled June 12 execution of Richard Leavitt. Lodge, while ruling against the injunction, said he'd like to hold full evidentiary hearings in the case, which questions restrictions that block witnesses from seeing the early portion of the lethal injection process, including the insertion of IVs. A 2002 9th Circuit case ruled that such restrictions violate the First Amendment.

Judge rejects news groups’ injunction bid based on timing, says case has merit

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has issued his ruling in the Idaho news media's bid for a preliminary injunction regarding limits on witness access to the state's execution procedures, finding that while the news media has presented “a strong claims on the merits,” it's just too close to the June 12 execution of Richard Leavitt for him to justify issuing a preliminary injunction. Instead, Lodge said he'd like to hold full evidentiary hearings in the case, with any subsequent ruling to apply to future executions - but not to the upcoming one. An appeal of the ruling to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals still is possible; the 9th Circuit has scheduled time for oral arguments in the case for Thursday, should either side appeal.

Numerous Idaho news media outlets and organizations, led by the Associated Press, filed suit over Idaho's execution procedures charging that they violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, because they bar witness access to the early stages of the lethal injection process, including the strapping of the condemned inmate to a gurney and the insertion of IV lines. A 2002 9th Circuit decision specifically held that such restrictions are unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but only two states in the circuit - Nevada and California - have been complying with the 2002 decision, California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford. “The public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber, including those ‘initial procedures’ that are inextricably intertwined with the process of putting the condemned inmate to death,” the 9th Circuit court found in that case.

In Idaho, complying with that decision would mean opening the curtain between the execution chamber and the witness viewing room approximately 20 minutes earlier in the process.

“The Court is very concerned that to the extent Plaintiffs could establish the IDOC’s protocol does need to be changed to protect First Amendment rights of the public, there is insufficient time for the IDOC to amend the policies and practice changes in the protocol without a delay in the scheduled execution,” Lodge wrote. “Simply put, the current scheduled execution does not allow adequate time for discovery, an evidentiary hearing, a ruling by this Court and a potential appeal by the nonsuccessful litigant to the Ninth Circuit before the scheduled execution date.”

The judge also wrote, “The undisputed reality as supported by the newspaper accounts of past executions and the specific language in IDOC’s Protocol 135 (which provides for numerous witnesses including the media), is that some portion of the public has historically viewed the execution process in Idaho. Further, this Court agrees with Plaintiffs that society has a critical interest in having at least some members of the public view the government’s implementation of a death warrant.”

News media have witnessed all but one Idaho state execution since 1901

As Idaho's news media spar with the state in federal court over limits on access to executions, the case has turned a spotlight onto Idaho's long and consistent history of media witnesses attending its state executions to serve as the eyes and ears of the public. In fact, media witnesses have been present for all but one Idaho execution since 1901, and published detailed accounts of them.

“The body swung not to the right and left, the rope made not a single twist, but facing the sun in the eastern sky, like one standing erect, all that was mortal of Ed Rice was there before his fellows, while the tide of life fast ebbed away,” the Idaho Daily Statesman reported in 1901, recounting the first state execution held at Idaho's state prison. Prior to 1901, executions were conducted at the county level in Idaho, and most were public, with hundreds attending.

Idaho's news media, including the Associated Press, The Spokesman-Review, the Idaho Press Club and more than a dozen other news outlets and organizations, are suing in federal court over Idaho's current execution procedures, which bar witnesses from the first portion of the lethal injection procedure, when the condemned prisoner is strapped down to a gurney and IVs are inserted. The media have been in discussions with the state over the issue since before Paul Ezra Rhoades was executed in November, but the state has refused to change its procedure. Now, another Idaho execution is scheduled: Richard Leavitt is scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 12. You can read my full story here at

Leavitt’s attorneys raise questions of guilt, state says 28 years of litigation is enough

In arguments at the Idaho Supreme Court today, defense attorney David Nevin contended there are questions about condemned murderer Richard Leavitt's guilt that have yet to be explored in court. But Deputy Attorney General LaMont Anderson told the justices, “We've been at this case now for 28 years.”

Justices peppered Nevin with questions about whether his interpretation of court rules would allow endless appeals to head off any execution. He countered, “We are not in the business of frivolous appeals here. There's a serious and significant issue as to guilt pending in the federal court.” Justice Jim Jones, a former Idaho attorney general, recused himself from the case; sitting in as a justice pro tem was retired Chief Justice Gerald Schroeder.

Late Thursday, the justices dismissed a major filing by Leavitt's attorneys, a petition to vacate the death warrant and conduct a new hearing. Then on Friday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill dismissed a bid to stay the execution on the basis that a March U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for consideration of Leavitt's earlier claim of ineffective counsel, with regard to testing of blood from the crime scene. Nevin immediately appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which will hear arguments on it Thursday.

Today, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge dismissed the portion of a lawsuit challenging Idaho's lethal-injection execution procedure that involves Leavitt, declining to issue a stay of execution, but leaving the case active for three other Death Row inmates. Leavitt is scheduled to die June 12 for the 1984 murder and mutilation of Danette Elg in eastern Idaho; you can read my full story here at on how he's lost three bids to stay his execution in the past five days.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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