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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho death row prisoner secures stay of execution, alleges cruel and unusual punishment

Rev. Mike Hollomon of Caldwell United Methodist and Emmett United Methodist prays with protesters against the death penalty outside of the Idaho Maximum Security Institution south of Boise Wednesday during prisoner Thomas Creech’s attempted execution.  (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman)
By Kevin Fixler Idaho Statesman

Immediately following the Idaho prison system’s failure Wednesday to execute the state’s longest-serving death row prisoner by lethal injection, his attorneys secured a stay of execution from a federal judge and filed a new demand they said was intended to protect their client’s constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Amanda Brailsford for the District of Idaho issued a stay of execution for Thomas Creech about a half-hour after Idaho Department of Correction officials called off his lethal injection when they couldn’t locate a vein for an IV. Attorneys for the prison system did not contest the emergency request for the stay from Creech’s attorneys, who alleged in their court filing that the execution team had “badly botched” their client’s lethal injection Wednesday morning.

Creech’s attorneys wrote that they were not aware at the time of their filing whether the prison system would again try to execute their client during his active death warrant, which expired at the end of the day Wednesday. IDOC Director Josh Tewalt said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the prison system decided not to make another attempt to execute Creech.

On Thursday, during testimony before an Idaho House committee, Tewalt contested claims that Creech’s execution, while unsuccessful, was botched. In fact, he said, the lethal injection policies and procedures worked as intended.

“Unequivocally, they made the right call,” Tewalt said of the execution team. “The worst thing the state could have done is to try to proceed with an execution without having confidence or the ability to administer those chemicals in a way that honored our commitment and responsibility to adhere to the Eighth Amendment and preventing cruel and unusual punishment.”

Tewalt and media witnesses said the execution team tried eight times to find a vein in different areas of Creech’s body over about an hour. The execution team’s failure to carry out a lethal injection “proves IDOC’s inability to carry out a humane and constitutional execution,” Creech’s attorneys wrote.

A new death warrant – what would be the 13th for Creech since he was convicted of murder for the November 1974 shooting deaths of two men in Valley County – would need to be issued if prison officials were to attempt to execute him again. Creech, 73, has been incarcerated in Idaho for nearly 50 years, the bulk of that time on death row.