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Bring back the firing squad for executions? Idaho officials considered it

Bring back the firing squad as a means of execution in Idaho? That’s something the state Department of Correction actually has been exploring, as states continue to struggle to obtain appropriate drugs for lethal-injection executions.

“We considered asking the Legislature to amend the statute so a firing squad could be used as a means of execution,” confirmed department spokesman Jeff Ray. “Like many states, we are concerned about the future availability of the drugs used for lethal injections.”

The department went so far as to draft legislation last month, obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the Idaho Public Records Law. But the idea was dropped before it could be presented to Gov. Butch Otter. “As we explored the proposal, we determined it would cost at least $300,000 to set up the firing squad,” Ray said in an email. “The proposal also would have diverted our attention from other important initiatives we have under way. … It just came down to a judgment call.” You can read my full Sunday column here; only three executions by firing squad have taken place in the U.S. since 1976, all three in Utah.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling could affect case of Idaho death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring states to look beyond intelligence scores in cases of mental disability to determine whether a death row inmate is eligible for execution could have ramifications for at least one Idaho prisoner, KTVB-TV reports. The justices ruled Tuesday that Florida and a handful of other states, including Idaho, cannot rely solely on an IQ score above 70 to bar an inmate from claiming mental disability. Gerald Pizzuto Jr. has been on Idaho's death row since 1986. He appealed, saying that his IQ was below 70, making it illegal for the state to execute him; Pizzuto's IQ was measured at 72 when he was 29. A score of 70 is widely accepted as a marker of mental disability, but medical professionals say people who score as high as 75 can be considered intellectually disabled because of the test's margin of error. "The ruling is of great constitutional and practical significance," said Sacramento-based attorney Joan Fisher, Pizzuto's attorney.

KTVB reporter Jamie Grey has a full report here, and a follow-up here with comments from the Idaho Attorney General’s office.

Sunday Spin: Death penalty bill dies, but not quietly

OLYMPIA – Whether Washington state should execute some people for crimes like aggravated first-degree murder is a good debate to have.

Whether the governor or the Legislature has the constitutional authority to do certain things is a good debate to have.

Mix capital punishment with separation of powers and you get a not so-good-debate, but an excellent vehicle for diatribes. . .


Execution moratorium misuse of power, Republicans say

OLYMPIA — Legislative Republicans accused Gov. Jay Inslee of misusing his power by announcing a blanket moratorium on all executions during his term.  

"It's the Legislature that decides whether (capital punishment) is an appropriate policy," Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-University Place, said, while a governor has the authority to stay the execution of a particular inmate on an individual basis. "He has usurped his role."

Inslee announced Tuesday he would not allow anyone who has been sentenced to death by the courts and exhausted all appeals to be executed while he is in office, hoping that would spark a discussion on whether equal justice is being served by capital punishment in Washington. A successor could allow the executions to go forward if he or she chooses, Inslee said.

Criticism from O'Ban and other Republicans was varied, and at times seemed contradictory. At one point, O'Ban said it could take a valuable tool out of the hands of prosecutors, who have used the possibility of not seeking the death penalty as a way to force serial killers to reveal information about victims; later he said it won't save the state any money because prosecutors will still be seeking the death penalty for cases that qualify for them.

O'Ban later said that defense attorneys will bring up the moratorium in discussions and "undercut" a prosecutor. It would also lead to "open season" on prison guards for inmates serving life without parole, because they'd have nothing to lose by killing a guard.

The threat of the death penalty didn't keep Monroe inmate Byron Scherf from strangling prison guard Jayme Biendl in 2012. But Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, said he is hearing from prison staff who want to know the Legislature is doing the best they can "to make them safe." 

The Legislature could address problems with the cost of capital punishment and the long delays from appeals without a complete suspension, O'Ban said.

A spokesman for Inslee said the governor acknowledged Tuesday that people will disagree with his decision. As to the suggestion that Inslee was usurping his power, Attorney General Rob Ferguson said Tuesday the decision was within Inslee's authority as governor, and spokesman David Postman said the public can judge who was right on that point.

To read Ferguson's press release on the legality of the moratorium, click here to go inside the blog.

Washington Executions Put On Hold

Washington will not execute anyone on death row while Jay Inslee is governor. Inslee, pictured, announced a moratorium today on capital punishment, saying he will issue a reprieve if any execution warrant comes to his desk. He’s not issuing a blanket commutation of sentences, and anyone who gets a reprieve from him could still be executed by a successor. He expects the moratorium to spark a conversation about the death penalty in Washington. “I am not convinced equal justice is being served,” Inslee said at a press conference to announce that he has changed his mind on capital punishment, a penalty he previously supported for some cases. “During my term, we will not be executing people”/Jim Camden, SR. More here. (AP photo)

Question: Should Idaho Gov. Butch Otter call for a moratorium on death penalty, too?

Oregon Guv Won’t Allow Execution

Gov. John Kitzhaber (pictured) announced today he will not allow the execution of Gary Haugen — or any death row inmateto take place while he is in office. The death penalty is morally wrong and unjustly administered, Kitzhaber said. "In my mind it is a perversion of justice," he said at an emotional news conference in Salem. The governor cited his constitutional authority to grant a temporary reprieve for Haugen, in effect canceling the planned Dec. 6 lethal injection of the twice-convicted murderer. Haugen waived his legal appeals and has been preparing for the execution, which would have been Oregon's first in 14 years/Helen Jung, Oregonian. More here. (AP photo)


Henry: Not Missing Paul Ezra Rhoades

For weeks, photos of Idaho's new execution chamber, along with sordid details of how lethal injection is carried out, have circulated on the Web. I've learned quite a bit about how last-minute appeals are filed, how the first of three injections renders the condemned unconscious so they don't feel the next two fatal shots that stop their breathing and heartbeat. The whole process is very clinical, very sterile and, providing nothing goes awry, painless for the condemned. The whole ordeal has also made me revisit my stance on capital punishment. I was raised in my faith that although God is the ultimate judge and will have the final ruling, society has a duty to carry out punishments for the good of greater society. As I've gotten older and explored my faith further, I realize there are basic tenets of human decency that one must adhere to. When you commit a crime contrary to the core of those tenets, you forfeit your place in society/Henry Johnston, Moscow-Pullman Daily News. More here.

Question: Did Idaho's execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades cause you to revisit your stance on capital punishment?

As execution approaches, Otter’s in Maui, LIttle’s in charge

As last-minute pleas for clemency continued to pour into Idaho's state Capitol this week in advance of the state's first execution since 1994, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter wasn't there – he was at a posh resort in Maui to speak about presidential politics, leaving Lt. Gov. Brad Little in charge.
Little has been Idaho's acting governor from Sunday, when Otter left for Hawaii, until Thursday, when Otter is planning to return to Boise, leaving the California Independent Voter Project's “Business and Leader Exchange” a day early to make it back for the Friday execution. During that time, condemned killer Paul Ezra Rhoades had two bids for a stay of execution rejected by the U.S. District Court in Boise and filed an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; state attorneys filed their response to that appeal today.

Where was Otter, who could commute the sentence? As the guest of the California group, he and First Lady Lori Otter flew to Hawaii for the group's conference at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort, a beachfront spread with three swimming pools, a 140-foot water slide and an array of luxury amenities.

Little, who says he's “really uncomfortable with capital punishment, just because of the very nature of it,” but has come to support it after much “soul searching,” says as acting governor, he wouldn't reverse Otter's stand, which has been to deny clemency for Rhoades. Little said he hasn't even read the letters and emails that continued to come in to the Capitol regarding the execution this week, leaving them instead for Otter on his return. “I guess I could go ask for 'em if I wanted to, but I have chosen not to do that,” Little said. He said he agrees with Otter's stance in this case. “I don't think anybody's arguing that Paul Ezra Rhoades is anywhere close to innocent.”  You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho Sets 1st Execution Since 1994

On the day a judge gave the order for serial killer Paul Ezra Rhoades (pictured) to die, the men who brought him to justice found little satisfaction in his looming execution. Instead, the investigators and prosecutors who worked Rhoades’ cases emphasized their limited roles nearly a quarter-century ago in tracking, catching and convicting him. “The case has come to its full destiny now,” Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde said. “That’s the order of the court, not the order of the law-enforcement guys.” Bonneville County Judge Jon Shindurling issued death warrants Wednesday for Rhoades, 54, for murdering Stacy Baldwin and Susan Michelbacher in 1987. Rhoades also received two life sentences for the second-degree murder of Idaho Falls convenience store clerk Nolan Haddon around the same time/Sven Berg, Idaho Falls Post Register. More here.

Question: Does it make sense to execute a murderer who has been in prison for 24 years? And/or: Does it make sense to take 24 years to execute triple-murderer Paul Ezra Rhoades?

Gregoire won’t stop Cal Brown execution

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire said this afternoon she will not commute the sentence of Cal Brown for the torture, rape and murder of Holly Washa.

Brown, who confessed to the murder, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994, and has lost subsequent appeals to overturn the sentence. The Clemency and Pardons Board split 2-2 last year on whether to commute the sentence; Gregoire said she reviewed the request and the record of the case and “found no basis to reverse his conviction or change the death sentence imposed by the jury.”

He is scheduled to be executed Thursday night.

HBO Poll: Yes To Capital Punishment

  • Weekend Poll: 193 of 266 respondents (72.6%) said they are in favor of capital punishment (on the morning Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in Utah). 63 of 266 respondents (23.7%) oppose capital punishment. 10 of 266 (3.8%) were undecided.
  • Today’s Poll: Which administration had a better response to a disaster affecting Gulf Coast States — George W. Bush (Hurricane Katrina) or Barack Obama (BP oil spill)?

MT: Invoke Death Penalty Wisely

In Latah County, 25-year-old Silas B. Parks faces two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson in the death of his 28-year-old wife Sarah Parks and her unborn daughter. Sarah was suffocated or strangled before her duplex was set afire. Silas has a history of domestic violence. Now he faces the death penalty until Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson concludes otherwise, and Thompson has several weeks to decide. Idaho has a lousy record on capital punishment. The last thing it needs is another death penalty case. Thirty-nine men and women have been sentenced to die. Only one, Keith Eugene Wells, was executed in 1994, and that was because Wells dropped his appeals/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: Should Idaho prosecutors abandon attempts to seek the death penalty, unless the case involves particularly violent circumstances like the Joseph Duncan one?