BOISE — A 7th District Judge has signed a death warrant for condemned inmate Richard Albert Leavitt, ordering that he be executed by lethal injection.
Barring any last-minute court intervention, Leavitt will be put to death on June 12.
Leavitt was convicted in the July 18, 1984, brutal death of Danette Elg in Blackfoot. Prosecutors said he stabbed her repeatedly with exceptional force, and then cut out her sexual organs. Leavitt’s defense attorneys have argued that he sustained brain damage and has a mental disorder that contributed to his actions.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider Leavitt’s appeal Monday, and Judge Jon Shindurling signed the death warrant today.
If Leavitt’s execution moves forward as planned, he will become the second person executed by the state in the last seven months. Paul Ezra Rhoades, who was convicted of killing three people in eastern Idaho in 1987, was put to death on Nov. 18, 2011.
Before Rhoades’ death, executions were rare in Idaho, with only one other inmate put to death in the last half-century. But they could become much more common, with Idaho Department of Correction officials predicting last year that there could be as many as four people executed before the end of 2013.
Leavitt’s defense attorneys have tried several times to get the death penalty overturned. In 2007, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill agreed after concluding defense attorney David Parmenter was ineffective for failing to investigate if brain damage found years later could explain Leavitt’s personality disorders at the time of the crime. But in a divided opinion issued in 2011, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Winmill and put Leavitt back on death row.
Leavitt, who has long maintained his innocence, was arrested after authorities discovered Elg’s body in her blood-spattered bedroom four days after she’d been killed. During his trial, a court-appointed psychologist who examined Leavitt said he had an antisocial personality disorder and intermittent explosive disorder, which would cause him to lose control of aggressive impulses.
Former district Judge H. Reynold George noted that Leavitt came from a law-abiding family, was married and steadily employed before his arrest and that while he had a criminal record, it mostly contained misdemeanors and traffic infractions.
Still, George said at the sentencing, those mitigating factors were only “feathers on the scale when balanced against the grossly inhumane act of murder that went beyond all decency.”
In April, Leavitt was one of four death row inmates to sue the state, contending Idaho’s new execution procedures give too much power to prison officials, create a risk of severe pain and would allow unqualified workers to carry out medical procedures. In the lawsuit Leavitt, Thomas Creech, James Hairston and Gene Stuart ask a judge to stop all executions until the problems are fixed.
That lawsuit is still active; the state has asked U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to throw it out because Idaho’s protocol matches the procedures in other states that have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.