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State: Allowing full viewing could identify or stress execution team

Allowing witnesses to view the full process of a state execution could identify or stress the members of the execution team, Idaho prison officials argued in legal filings late Tuesday. The Associated Press and 16 other news organizations say reporters — and by extension the public — should view all phases of the execution to accurately report the events or any complications that emerge. Idaho officials spelled out their legal defense in advance of court-ordered mediation, which begins Thursday under the supervision of Magistrate Judge Candy Dale; click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Judge Lodge orders mediation in press lawsuit over limited access to Idaho executions

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A federal judge has ordered mediation between Idaho and more than a dozen news organizations challenging the state's policy limiting public access to executions. U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge handed down the order Thursday, two days after The Associated Press and 16 other news organizations filed a lawsuit seeking to force officials to let witnesses view executions from start to finish. The suit contends the media and other witnesses have a First Amendment right to view all steps of lethal injection executions. Idaho Department of Correction policy blocks from view the first steps of the process, including insertion of the IV needles into the condemned inmate. Lodge's order requires the parties to enter mediation on or before June 1 under supervision of Magistrate Judge Candy Dale. You can read Judge Lodge's order here; click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Press sues state over restricted media witness access to portions of executions

The Associated Press and 16 other organizations sued the state of Idaho today, challenging its execution protocols that bar media witnesses from viewing the entire process of execution, allowing them to see only the final portion. A 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision from 2002 declared it a violation of the 1st Amendment for media witnesses to be excluded from the earlier portions of the procedure, including the insertion of IVs for lethal injection executions.  "This lawsuit is really all about obtaining access to the entire execution process for viewing purposes. It's very important in a society such as ours to have full transparency in regards to the exercise of government authority," said Chuck Brown, the attorney representing the news organizations.

The press had been in discussion with the state Department of Correction about the process since before its earlier execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades in November, and the department promised to review its procedures after that execution to address the concerns. However, it decided to make no changes, prompting the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court; in addition to the AP, plaintiffs include the Idaho Press Club, Idahoans for Openness in Government, the Idaho Statesman, The Spokesman-Review, and other news organizations from across the state. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone. You can read the full complaint and exhibits here, including letters and emails back and forth between the press and Corrections officials seeking to resolve the matter short of court action.

Idaho switches execution protocol to single-drug lethal injection

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Idaho's corrections chief says the agency is switching to a one-drug lethal injection for future executions of death row inmates. Idaho Department of Corrections Director Brent Reinke said Friday execution teams will administer a single, lethal dose of the surgical sedative pentobarbital. That's a change from the execution carried out by the agency last fall, when the condemned inmate was injected with three-drug mixture, which included pentobarbital. Reinke says the change was driven by difficulties in obtaining the other two chemicals used to kill Paul Ezra Rhoades in November. The decision makes Idaho the latest death penalty state to switch to using only pentobarbital in its lethal injection. Reinke says the one-drug protocol will be used in the June 12 execution of convicted murderer Richard Leavitt.

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.

Idaho reaches deal to boost prison medical care

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The Idaho Department of Correction has agreed to increase staffing and dramatically increase medical care oversight as part of a long-running lawsuit over conditions at a prison south of Boise. The agreement filed with the U.S. District Court in Idaho Tuesday afternoon guarantees that the court will continue to review conditions at the Idaho State Correctional Institution for at least two more years before ending a decades-old lawsuit between inmates and the state. Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said the agreement represents a significant step forward in the lawsuit, which was filed exactly 31 years ago. The agreement comes after a court-appointed expert made a scathing assessment of the medical care provided to inmates at the prison. The state and its medical contractor, Corizon, have disputed those findings. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Death Row inmates challenge Idaho’s execution procedures

Four Death Row inmates have filed a federal lawsuit over Idaho's new execution procedures, asking a judge to stop all executions until problems in the procedures are addressed. The move comes as Idaho's next execution nears; Richard Leavitt, an eastern Idaho murderer convicted in 1984, is nearing the end of his appeals. In November, Idaho carried out its first execution in 17 years, executing triple murderer Paul Rhoades by lethal injection; it was the state's first execution since 1994 and only its second since 1957.

The four inmates, who include Leavitt along with Thomas Creech, James Hairston and Gene Stuart, contend the new procedures adopted earlier this year give too much power to prison officials, create a risk of severe pain and would allow unqualified workers to carry out medical procedures. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Another escape attempt at Benewah jail

State officials learned of an attempted Wednesday escape at the Benewah County Jail when officials at another jail called to say the inmate had been transferred there, and they wanted him gone. 

The Idaho Department of Correction is working to transport Timothy Wesley Allen, 30, to another facility, said spokesman Jeff Ray.

Allen was awaiting transfer to state custody on a parole violation when he tried to break through a wall at the jail, Ray said.

Jailers discovered the attempted break-in about 10 p.m., Ray said. Benewah County Sheriff's Office transferred Allen to the Shoshone County Jail in Wallace, Idaho.

Jailers called the state official in charge of the facility and asked that Allen be removed as soon as possible.

"He said 'how come?' and found out why," Ray said.

The Benewah County Sheriff’s Office did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Allen has convictions for grand theft, robbery, DUI and accessory to a robbery in Montana in 2009, Ray said.

This is the second time in six months Benewah County has failed to notify the department of an escape or attempted escape by a state inmate.

Jesse John Wilkenson, also known as Jesse Brebner, 20, has escaped twice - last July and last September.

Rhoades’ Execution Price Tag: $53K

The Nov. 18 execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades cost the Idaho Department of Correction $53,411, the department said. Of the total, $25,583 went to employee overtime and $27,828 went to operating costs. IDOC Director Brent Reinke says when his department began preparing for the execution, it made a commitment to carry out the assignment with professionalism, respect and dignity for all involved. “We believe we met those standards while at the same time being careful stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Reinke said. Operating expenses included medical supplies, equipment rentals and meals/Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Worth the cost?

2-time jail escapee back in custody

A burglar who escaped from the Benewah County Jail in July escaped again early Tuesday, authorities say, but was back in custody by Tuesday night.

Jesse John Wilkenson, 20, also known as Jesse Brebner, was in custody on charges related to the July 15 escape when he left the jail about 12:15 a.m. A Benewah County sheriff's deputy, acting on a tip, arrested Wilkenson after establishing a roadblock west of St. Maries, according to the St. Maries Gazette Record.

Wilkenson had been sentenced to a 365-day prison treatment program for a burglary conviction but hadn't been transferred to a state facility because he was awaiting the resolution of his escape charge, which carries up to five years in prison, said Teresa Jones, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Correction.

Benewah County authorities did not notify state prison officials of Wilkenson's escape in July for several days, but Jones said the department knew of Tuesday's escape early that day.

Past coverage:

July 21: Cross deputization helped nab jail escapee

July 19: Benewah County kept jail escape quiet

Idaho prison razes sweat lodge

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho prison officials say they have leveled a tribal sweat lodge and reconfigured a patch of ground that has served the religious needs of Native American inmates for more than 25 years at a prison south of Boise. Idaho Department of Correction Spokesman Jeff Ray says the work done Wednesday at the South Idaho Correctional Institution was intended to address health and security concerns. The prison's Native American inmates are frustrated by the department's actions. But Ray says officials intend to rebuild the sweat lodge and maintain the parcel for tribal worship. Ray also says the prison intends to carve out a separate space on the grounds for inmates of other earth-based faiths to worship. Prisons nationwide are required by federal law to make space available for religious worship.

Cross-deputization helped nab escapee

A convicted burglar who escaped Friday from Benewah County Jail has been recaptured, thanks in part to Kootenai County’s cross-deputization agreement with the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Police.

Tribal officers made the arrest working with Plummer city police and the Benewah County Sheriff’s Office, authorities said Wednesday.

Jesse John Wilkenson, 20, also known as Jesse Brebner, was recaptured at 2 a.m. Wednesday on Conklin Park Road, according to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department.

Read the rest of Alison Boggs' story here.

Past coverage:

July 19: Benewah County kept jail escape quiet

Benewah County kept jail escape quiet

UPDATE: Wilkenson was arrested early Wednesday in Kootenai County. Read more here.

State authorities issued a warning that a convicted felon escaped Friday from Benewah County Jail after learning local officials failed to do so.

“Anytime someone is running from the law, we consider them to pose a measure of risk because they may be acting desperately and irrationally,” said Jeff Ray, a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Correction. “You gotta hit the red button when these guys get loose.”

Jesse John Wilkenson, also known as Jesse Brebner, is 20 and has brown hair and brown eyes. He is 5-foot-8, 146 pounds and has a medium complexion, a news release from the Idaho Department of Correction said Tuesday.

Wilkenson was sentenced Friday to a year-long retained jurisdiction program following a burglary conviction and a probation violation. Judges can retain jurisdiction over offenders during evaluation and treatment. If they complete the program successfully, offenders can be released on probation and avoid longer prison sentences, the release said.

Wilkenson escaped a few hours after the sentencing, the news release said.

Ray said Benewah County officials alerted the Department of Correction about the escape in the notes column of a form faxed to the state Monday that details when a prisoner can be transported.

As a felon, Wilkenson falls under the state’s jurisdiction, Ray said.

"We didn’t know about it until Monday and then it was buried," Ray said. “If it’s an offender under our jurisdiction, we want to know if he’s loose.”

Benewah County Sheriff Robert Kirts did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Anyone with information about Wilkenson’s whereabouts is asked to call local law enforcement.

Reunion with deputy leads to arrest

A transient was arrested early today after a Spokane County sheriff's deputy recognized him from previous arrests in Idaho.

Having been arrested before is hardly probable cause to be rearrested, but, according to the sheriff's office, Timothy Karl Turnbull, 52, (pictured) had a suspended driver's license and a warrant from the Idaho Department of Correction.

Turnbull was stopped after Deputy Chuck Sciortino spotted him driving a car without a seat belt in the West Plains area.

Sciortino had previously arrested Turnbull while a Kootenai County sheriff's deputy. He ordered Turnbull out of the car to arrest him after learning of the suspended license and warrant. A baggie of methamphetamine feel from Turnbull as he stood up, a news release said.

Turnbull was booked into jail for the driver's license misdemeanor and a felony drug charge. He may face fugitive charges related to the warrant and felon in possession of ammunition charge for bullets found under the driver's seat of his car.

Turnbull has previous drug convictions in Kootenai and Boundary counties, according to the Department of Correction.

Idaho prisons chief: ‘We do have gangs, and they are a problem’

Brent Reinke, Idaho state prisons chief, as he opened his presentation to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, said Idahoans may be wondering, “What about this violence story? What’s happening here?” He said he’d be glad to speak with any legislator who’s been contacted by constituents with concerns about family members housed at the Idaho Correctional Center, the privately operated state prison south of Boise, where a brutal inmate-on-inmate attack - while guards watched - was shown in a video released by the Associated Press yesterday.

Reinke said he “won’t go into detail today to explain to you all” the issues about the private prison. But, he said, “I’m very confident and very comfortable with our new warden in that facility, and things are progressing. We are doing a much better job of monitoring than we have in the past; we have a new contract.” He added, “In the Department of Corrections, 80 percent of our problems are bought forth by 20 percent of our population. We do have gangs, and they are a problem.”

Escaped Idaho killer captured in Spokane

An escaped killer from Idaho was arrested in north Spokane today. 

Kelly Renee Norton, 44, walked away from the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center Sunday night, according to the Idaho Department of Correction.

She was arrested at Francis Avenue and Division Street about 10 a.m. this morning after detectives got a tip from Pocatello police.

Norton was sentenced in 1994 to a 10- to 20-year sentence for second-degree murder in Washington County. She also was convicted of drug possession.

Norton has been at the prison’s community custody unit since Oct. 9.

The unit is outside the main prison fence and houses minimum security inmates “who regularly work in the community,” according to the Idaho Department of Correction.

Authorities think Norton walked from the facility to a waiting vehicle.

Idaho’s first-ever prison rape conviction

Idaho’s state Department of Correction says the case of Cody Vealton Thompson, who was convicted by an Ada County jury Nov. 17 of raping his cellmate and attempting to intimidate a witness, is the first conviction of an inmate for raping another inmate inside an Idaho prison in the 120-year history of the state’s prison system. “This case shows Idaho is serious about eliminating prison rape,” said Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke. He said Idaho has been a national leader in implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a federal law passed in 2003. Click below to read the department’s full news release; Thompson faces sentencing Dec. 22.

Wanted: Two Whipples

An accused armed robber failed to appear in court earlier this month, and Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information that leads to his capture.

Joseph E. Whipple, 21, (left) and Jimmy D. Dempsey, 17, were each due in Spokane County Superior Court May 20 on charges of first-degree robbery in a case featured in this blog post.

Whipple didn’t show, and Crime Stoppers sent his mug shot and a brief description of his charges to the media today.

Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online at www.crimestoppersinlandnorthwest.org.

Joe Whipple is the second Whipple making the news today.

Jeffrey Anthony Whipple, 44, escaped from a work crew with two other prisoners near Avery, Idaho, Sunday night or early this morning. Read a story on that here.

There is no indication whether the two are related.

UPDATE: Jeffrey Whipple was arrested on 6/2/09. Read about his arrest here. UPDATE 6/23/09: Joseph Whipple has been arrested.