Earlier this month, an Idaho federal judge ruled in favor of a death-row inmate who claims the state is violating his Eighth Amendment rights by continuing to schedule his execution while knowing it lacks the means to actually kill him.
According to the Idaho Statesman, Idaho has scheduled the execution of Gerald Pizzuto five times since his conviction in 1986 for the murders of Berta and Del Herndon. The state has even obtained three separate death warrants since 2021, despite lacking the lethal injection drugs required to kill him. As a result, Pizzuto says he has experienced "psychological torture."
"With each new death warrant, Pizzuto explains, he must repeat the preparatory steps of designating who will witness his execution and to whom his property and remains will be left," Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote in his ruling. "Additionally, each time a new death warrant issues, he is moved from his cell block to the Execution Unit located 'in a separate building that provides for complete isolation…from other inmates.'"
Idaho hasn't carried out an execution since 2012 due to an inability to obtain lethal injection drugs, though a new law that recently took effect makes death by firing squad the state's backup execution method. However, the exact procedures for firing squad executions are still in development.
Despite the fact that Pizzuto has terminal bladder cancer—and, as a result, has been in hospice for the past three years—this hasn't kept the state from continually obtaining death warrants for his execution.
"Idaho law is clear, those who commit the most egregious crimes deserve the ultimate punishment," Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador said in a press release in February. "Pizzuto was sentenced to death. We followed the law and obtained a new death warrant."
Pizzuto sued to stop this pattern, asking for a stay of execution on the grounds that the state is violating his Eighth and 14th Amendment rights by repeatedly making plans to execute him knowing the death warrants cannot be carried out. The state swiftly responded with an attempt to dismiss Pizzuto's legal action.
While Judge Winmill dismissed Pizzuto's claims that the practice violated his 14th Amendment due process rights, he agreed that his claims of cruel and unusual punishment were "plausible," allowing the attempt to stay his execution to go forward.
"As Pizzuto describes it, Defendants' repeated rescheduling of his execution is like dry firing in a mock execution or a game of Russian roulette. With each new death warrant comes another spin of the revolver's cylinder, restarting the thirty-day countdown until the trigger pulls," Winmill wrote. "Not knowing whether a round is chambered, Pizzuto must re-live his last days in a delirium of uncertainty until the click sounds and the cylinder spins again."