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Idaho seeks to execute longtime death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto, again. What we know

By Kevin Fixler Idaho Statesman

For the third time in two years, Idaho has issued a death warrant for inmate Gerald Pizzuto, seeking to execute him next month.

Attorney General Raúl Labrador announced the latest attempt to execute Pizzuto, a convicted murderer, on Friday morning, seeking a conclusion to his conviction from 36 years ago.

Labrador, a former Idaho Republican congressman, has been in the new role just eight weeks. Pizzuto’s execution is scheduled for March 23.

“Idaho law is clear; those who commit the most egregious crimes deserve the ultimate punishment,” Labrador said in a statement. “Pizzuto was sentenced to death. We followed the law and obtained a new death warrant.”

Idaho can’t obtain lethal drugs

Idaho most recently pursued Pizzuto’s death by lethal injection in November. But the state prison system proved unable to obtain the lethal injection drugs needed to fulfill his death sentence, indefinitely postponing his scheduled Dec. 15 execution.

Labrador said the Idaho Department of Correction, which is tasked with executing Pizzuto, is now in the process of trying to find the lethal injection drugs it failed to obtain just three months ago. A spokesperson for the state prison system did not immediately return an Idaho Statesman request for comment.

It is unclear what, if anything, has changed in that procurement process since the last time the state tried to execute Pizzuto. It’s now the state’s fifth attempt to do so since his 1986 conviction for the murder of two people at a cabin north of McCall. State prisons director Josh Tewalt told the agency’s board in December they have remained unable to acquire the drugs to execute an inmate.

“While our efforts to secure chemicals remain ongoing, I have no reason to believe our status will change prior to the scheduled execution,” Tewalt wrote in the memo at that time. “In my professional judgment, I believe it is in the best interest of justice to allow the death warrant to expire and stand down our execution preparation.”

Bill would let firing squad execute inmates

State Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, a former Ada County deputy prosecutor, introduced on Wednesday a bill that would restore use of a firing squad as a backup method of execution. The attorney general’s office helped author the bill, spokesperson Emily Kleinworth told the Statesman on Thursday, and Labrador was “personally involved,” she said.

Labrador emphasized his hope that Idaho lawmakers would pass House Bill 186, which has yet to receive a hearing date in the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee, which Skaug chairs. If the firing squad bill advances with a majority from that 18-member committee, it would move on to the House floor for an initial vote.

“We hope the Legislature will also consider giving the state an alternative method of execution,” Labrador said in the statement.

Gov. Brad Little would entertain signing the bill, if passed by the Legislature, a spokesperson for the Republican governor, told the Statesman on Thursday.

“Gov. Little supports capital punishment and will continue to support policies adopted by the Legislature that enable the state of Idaho to successfully and constitutionally carry out the death penalty,” Madison Hardy, Little’s spokesperson, said by email.

The Statesman also has reached out for comment from the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho, which represents Pizzuto.