Idaho Oks Death Warrant For Man Who Killed Gold Prospectors

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho authorities issued a death warrant on Wednesday for a terminally ill man who is facing execution for his role in the 1985 slayings of two gold prospectors.

The warrant sets Pizzuto’s execution by lethal injection on Dec. 15, but officials said they don’t have the chemicals needed to carry out the execution, and are trying to obtain them.

The Idaho Department of Correction said it served the warrant to 66-year-old Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. at the department's Idaho Maximum Security Institution in Kuna in southwestern Idaho. The warrant was issued by 2nd District Court Judge Jay P. Gaskill.

The department said its director, Josh Tewalt, suspended implementation of the execution until Tewalt “anticipates a change in the material ability to carry out an execution.” The agency didn't offer a timeline for when that might happen.

The department said it has developed and will implement a housing plan and other procedures for Pizzuto consistent with Idaho law now that he has been served with a death warrant.

The Federal Defenders Services of Idaho, which is defending Pizzuto, in a statement said they are seeking a stay of the execution because Pizzuto has several legal challenges pending in state and federal court.

One of those is against Republican Gov. Brad Little's rejection of a recommendation by the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole that Pizzuto's death sentence be changed to life in prison.

The second is against the use of pentobarbital, a sedative used as an execution drug, “on the grounds that it creates a risk of a torture to a man riddled with cancer, diabetes and heart disease.”

The group also said Pizzuto's history of prescription medication will make the pentobarbital less effective, and that he has an increased risk of a painful heart attack before he is sedated.

“The state is trying to execute Mr. Pizzuto as quickly as possible to prevent the courts from giving thorough and careful consideration to whether his execution would be lawful," said Deborah Czuba, supervising attorney for the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Defender Services of Idaho. "The Governor can still accept the recommendation of his Commission and spare Mr. Pizzuto, the public and especially the prison staff a needless execution.”

Pizzuto has spent more than three decades on death row and was originally scheduled to be put to death in June of 2021. He asked for clemency because he has terminal bladder cancer, heart disease, diabetes and decreased intellectual function.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled in August that the governor’s decision to overrule the life-in-prison recommendation was legal. The court last month declined to reconsider the clemency case.

Pizzuto was camping with two other men near the town of McCall when he encountered 58-year-old Berta Herndon and her 37-year-old nephew Del Herndon, who were prospecting in the area.

Prosecutors said Pizzuto, armed with a .22 caliber rifle, went to the Herndon’s cabin, tied their wrists behind their backs and bound their legs to steal their money. He bludgeoned them both, and co-defendant James Rice then shot Del Herndon in the head. Another co-defendant, Bill Odom, helped bury the bodies and all three were accused of robbing the cabin.