Idaho executes inmate for 1984 killing
BOISE — Idaho executed Richard Leavitt for a 1984 murder on Tuesday, with witnesses, for the first time, watching the entire lethal injection process, pursuant to a court order issued in response to a lawsuit from the news media.
Leavitt, 53, was pronounced dead at 9:25 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.
“The procedures were carried out as prescribed,” said state Corrections Director Brent Reinke. “The Department of Corrections has fulfilled the obligation that the law requires and that justice demands.”
Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone, one of four media witnesses, reported, “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. 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.”
The Associated Press and 16 other news groups, including The Spokesman-Review, sued last month, arguing that Idaho Department of Correction policy barring witnesses from viewing the early stages of a lethal injection last November, including insertion of IVs, violated the First Amendment and the public’s right to know. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ordering Idaho prison officials to open the entire process to witnesses.
As a result, witnesses, including four members of the news media, already were in the viewing room when Leavitt was brought into the execution chamber, and the curtain was open. They described the procedure as quiet and precise.
“They appeared to be able to insert the IVs in both arms on the first attempt,” Boone said immediately after the execution.
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.
“I am happy with how this turned out today,” Reinke said. “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.”
Asked if the big legal fight was necessary given his satisfaction with the open process, Reinke 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.”
The insertion of IV catheters, used to deliver lethal doses of sedatives and other chemicals, has come under fire in recent years. Death row inmates in Idaho and other states have challenged the procedure on grounds that improper insertion of the catheters can cause delays, excruciating pain or other complications.
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.
Late Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Leavitt’s final last-minute request to stay the execution, clearing the way for Idaho to put to death its second inmate in 17 years. In November, Paul Ezra Rhoades died by lethal injection for his role in the slaying of three people in eastern Idaho.
More than two dozen protesters gathered outside the gates of Idaho’s state prison complex south of Boise to protest the execution. “As citizens of this state, we are appalled that this killing is being done in our name,” said Mia Crosthwaite of Idahoans Against the Death Penalty, as the group moved into in a circle to pray.
Crosthwaite, who also protested at the November execution, 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.”
Though Leavitt maintained his innocence, his blood was found on the victim’s clothing at the murder scene, and he received stitches for a cut to his hand the night of the murder. Leavitt claimed he’d had a nosebleed in the victim’s room days earlier.
Tom Moss, a retired U.S. attorney who was Bingham County prosecutor at the time of the crime, said it will be 28 years in July since Danette Elg’s death. “It takes a lot of time,” he said. “But when somebody’s life is at stake, it is very important that we move carefully and we do whatever needs to be done to see that we don’t make a mistake.”
Said Moss, “I think justice was served today.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.