Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho ‘serial killer’ Thomas Creech’s death sentence upheld after clemency review

Thomas Creech  (Idaho Department of Correction/TNS)
By Kevin Fixler Idaho Statesman The Idaho Statesman

Thomas Creech will remain Idaho’s longest-serving death row prisoner after the state parole board recommended Monday against his plea to avoid execution with a reduced sentence to life in prison.

Creech was convicted of five murders, including the beating death of fellow prisoner David Dale Jensen in 1981. He is suspected of at least several others across the Western U.S. but asked that he be allowed to die of natural causes at a formal hearing earlier this month.

The Commission of Pardons and Parole deadlocked in a 3-3 vote, which upholds Creech’s death sentence because a majority did not support his request. The parole board’s seventh member, a retired longtime Idaho State Police officer, recused himself from the clemency hearing for undisclosed reasons.

“We do not believe Mr. Creech is worthy of grace or mercy,” the three unnamed parole board members said in the ruling. “This decision was based on the coldblooded nature of David Dale Jensen’s murder and the sheer number of victims that Mr. Creech has created over his lifetime, which shows that he does not place value on human life, other than his own.”

Creech’s attorneys with the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho and the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, which argued the case against granting Creech a reduced sentence, both did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Idaho Statesman.

Gov. Brad Little, who has the final say on clemency decisions, said in a statement that part of his job is to follow the law and ensure criminal sentences are carried out as ordered.

“Thomas Creech is a convicted serial killer responsible for acts of extreme violence,” Little said. “As governor, I have zero intention of taking any action that would halt or delay Creech’s execution. His lawful and just sentence must be carried out as ordered by the court. Justice has been delayed long enough.”

A broad group of advocates backed Creech’s push to drop his death sentence to life in prison after having been incarcerated for nearly a half-century. His supporters included several former state prison workers, one current corrections officer who spoke at his clemency hearing, a former state lawmaker and the Ada County judge who gave Creech the death penalty.

“For me, Tom has become a living symbol for the problems with the death penalty,” former state Rep. Donna Boe, who served from 1996 to 2010, wrote in Creech’s clemency petition. “I have no doubt that he has changed and grown as a person, that he has true care and concern for others including the staff who work at the prison, and that an execution would be a tragic waste of life.”

Creech, 73, has been convicted of five murders, including three in Idaho. Creech received his standing death sentence after he pleaded guilty to Jensen’s May 1981 murder. Creech previously said the incident was an act of self-defense, but still apologized for Jensen’s death at his hearing.

“I’m sorry with all my heart and soul,” Creech told the parole board. “If I could bring him back and trades places, I would do that.”

Creech, then 30, beat Jensen, a 23-year-old Pocatello, Idaho, man who was partially disabled before entering prison, using a sock filled with batteries. When the weapon broke, Creech kicked and stomped Jensen’s throat and head against his cell’s concrete floor and bed frame, prosecutors said.

“This is not self-defense. This is part of the lie Creech has been trying to tell you,” Ada County deputy Prosecutor Jill Longhurst said at Creech’s clemency hearing.

Jensen’s sister, two nieces and his daughter read victims’ statements at the hearing. Only one of them offered her first name, and the Prosecutor’s Office cited the victims’ rights clause of the Idaho Constitution to the Statesman for declining to identify Jensen’s family members.

Jensen’s daughter said she was 4 years old when Creech killed her father and has dealt with decades of torment since his death.

“Execution is not an act of evil,” she said, “it’s the result of actions and choices.”

Creech’s past convictions and suspected murders

Just months before killing Jensen, Creech used a razor blade mounted to a toothbrush – similar to a weapon Creech said Jensen tried to attack him with – to slash a different prisoner in the neck, arm and abdomen, Longhurst said. The Prosecutor’s Office declined to charge Creech for that assault, she said.

Creech was initially convicted in Idaho for the November 1974 double-murder of Edward Thomas Arnold, 34, and John Wayne Bradford, 40, in Valley County. He received the death penalty but had his sentence reduced to life in prison when the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that death sentences may not be mandatory for a crime, as Idaho had in place at the time.

Creech was later convicted of a murder each in Oregon and California. Creech claimed at times, including under oath, to having killed as many as 42 people. He later revised the total to 26 murders he committed or at least participated in.

Longhurst detailed during her presentations before the parole board that Creech was responsible for at least 11 murders. One was the stabbing death of a 70-year-old man in Arizona – for which Creech was acquitted by a jury – and the shooting of a 21-year-old man in San Bernardino County, California, that has gone unsolved for nearly 50 years, which the prosecution revealed for the first time at the hearing.

Creech’s attorneys with the Federal Defender Services called the allegations brought by prosecutors against their client for the San Bernardino cold case “troubling” and “irresponsible” given the lack of “any real evidence” presented at the clemency hearing.

“We are confident the parole commission will see through the prosecutors’ ruse and judge Mr. Creech based on the man he is in 2024, whose execution would accomplish nothing but more death and devastation,” Deborah A. Czuba, supervising attorney for the legal nonprofit’s death penalty unit, said in a statement last week.