House introduces bill to block details on execution drugs

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

The House State Affairs Committee introduced a bill Monday to prohibit public disclosure of where the state obtains lethal injection chemicals.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, introduced the bill, saying “Around the country there has been an ongoing effort to repeal the death penalty,” and such an effort would fall void in a conservative legislature such as Idaho’s.

“Opponents of death penalty have engaged a new strategy in making the death penalty go away,” Chaney told the committee. “And that is to leverage ‘woke cancel culture’ to shame providers of lethal injection drugs away from providing those drugs for executions for states.”

Chaney explained that because of that, “there is no provider without these statutory protections contained in this RS… who will provide the means for us to carry out executions.”

Lethal injection is the only legal form of execution in Idaho and it is currently under debate as a man on death row, Gerald Pizzuto Jr., narrowly avoided execution in June. 

The issue around lethal injection has made its way through the courts in recent months and years after a death warrant was issued but then stayed in Pizzuto’s case. 

Chaney stressed that the death penalty is imposed by jurors, not judges, and the state must have a way to carry out that sentence.

Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise, asked Chaney for an example of an entity trying to “cancel” a provider. 

Chaney did not have the names of entities, but said they are anti-death penalty organizations that work to publicly identify the names of providers.

“They’ve been successful enough around the country that the word they are giving to our department of corrections is don’t even call us if you cannot provide us with anonymity,” Chaney said.

Pizzuto’s attorneys went before the Idaho Supreme Court on Nov. 1, taking issue with the Idaho Department of Correction’s execution procedure. As of Feb. 14, the court had not issued an opinion in that case.

Chaney’s bill will get a full hearing with public testimony before the Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee in coming days.

The two most recent executions by lethal injection Idaho were those of Paul Ezra Rhoades in November 2011 and Richard Leavitt in June 2012.

A complaint filed in 2020 in federal court raised concerns around how the chemicals in those executions were purchased. The complaint stated IDOC leadership purchased lethal injection drugs with a suitcase full of cash in a Tacoma parking lot in 2012. That case, filed on behalf of two men on Idaho’s death row, claimed the state violated the men’s rights by making plans to execute them “while providing them essentially zero information about its plans on how it will do so.”

Pizzuto’s case

Pizzuto was convicted in the 1985 deaths of Berta Herndon and her nephew Delbert Herndon outside of McCall. His two co-defendants, William Odom and James Rice, were given lesser sentences for their roles in the crime.

The Commission of Pardons and Parole recently recommended a commutation for Pizzuto, but the governor denied the commutation. Pizzuto’s attorneys claim the governor did not have the constitutional authority to deny it, and an Idaho County judge agreed. 

Gov. Brad Little’s office recently filed a notice of intent to appeal with the Idaho Supreme Court after 2nd Judicial District Judge Jay Gaskill issued a written opinion out of Idaho County, saying the governor’s denial of Pizzuto’s commutation recommendation could be in violation of the constitution.

Oral arguments have not been scheduled yet in that case before the Supreme Court. 

Judge Gaskill said he will not sign a death warrant until appeals are concluded in Pizzuto’s case.

<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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