Judge signs death warrant for Idaho man facing execution in double-murder case
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
An Idaho man who’s been on death row since 1986 could see his execution soon, after a district judge signed his death warrant, tentatively scheduling the execution for June 2.
Gerald Pizzuto Jr., now 65, was convicted by a jury of two counts of first-degree murder in Idaho County and sentenced to death more than 35 years ago.
He has pursued multiple appeals, challenging his conviction and sentence, but ultimately his efforts before the higher courts have been unsuccessful.
The death warrant was signed by a district judge on May 6.
Gov. Brad Little’s office confirmed Friday that he has received a copy of the death warrant. The death warrant is a court order that is executed by the district court, not the governor.
According to the Associated Press, Pizzuto’s murder convictions came after the 1985 beating deaths of Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew Del Herndon, 37.
Pizzuto, armed with a rifle, tied the victims’ wrists behind their backs and bound their legs to steal their money, according to prosecutors. He reportedly bludgeoned them both and shot Del Herndon.
Details around past executions
The most recent executions by lethal injection in Idaho were the deaths of Paul Ezra Rhoades, on Nov. 18, 2011, and Richard Leavitt, on June 12, 2012.
A lawsuit filed in March of 2020, on behalf of Pizzuto and another death row inmate, Thomas Creech, brought forward startling details about how the execution drugs that are used in state executions were obtained.
The complaint alleged that in 2012, Idaho Department of Correction leaders purchased lethal injection drugs with a suitcase full of cash in a Tacoma parking lot.
Idaho Reports asked the Idaho Department of Correction spokesperson if the department planned to release information on what medications would be used in the execution.
“I have not heard of any kind of timeline regarding the possible release of information about the execution chemicals,” spokesman Jeff Ray wrote in an email.
The execution procedure in Idaho is published on the IDOC website.
The ability to obtain the kind of medication and/or chemicals used in execution is challenging in the United States.
In 2019, the Justice Department issued an opinion, stating that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cannot regulate drugs used for an execution.
“We conclude that articles intended for use in capital punishment by state or the federal government cannot be regulated as ‘drugs’ or ‘devices’ under the (Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act),” according to the opinion. “FDA accordingly lacks jurisdiction to regulate such articles for that intended use.”
Defense attorneys have argued the lack of jurisdiction could lead to botched executions.
Now that Pizzuto’s death warrant has been issued, IDOC’s operating procedure states the department’s administrative team has 21 to 30 days to prepare several obligations.
Among the obligations is making sure execution chemicals are available.
According to IDOC policy, the department must, “Ensure that execution chemicals have been purchased or that sources have been established. When chemicals are received, immediately start a chain of custody document, secure the chemicals, and monitor to ensure compliance with manufacturer specifications. Access to the chemicals must be limited to the members of the Administrative Team.”
While the execution date is set for June 2, legal interference could cause a stay.