Execution of terminally ill prisoner on Idaho’s death row serves vengeance, not justice

The execution chamber at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, as shown in October 2011 prior to the execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades.
·3 min read

Despite the horrific nature of his crimes, Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. should be allowed to die a natural death rather than be executed by the state of Idaho.

Pizzuto, 65, has terminal bladder cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and is in a wheelchair, according to The Associated Press. He’s been on hospice care since 2019, when doctors said he likely wouldn’t survive for another year.

Pizzuto’s attorneys filed a clemency petition on his behalf to the Idaho Pardons & Parole Commission.

The commission should grant that request, and members should do it quickly. Pizzuto is scheduled for execution on June 2.

We recognize and acknowledge the atrocity of Pizzuto’s crimes. He was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1985 killings of Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew Del Herndon, 37, at a remote Idaho County cabin.

Armed with a .22 caliber rifle, Pizzuto tied the victims’ wrists behind their backs and bound their legs to steal their money. He bludgeoned them both, and Del Herndon was also shot.

The details of his case would certainly test the bounds of leniency for even the most ardent death penalty opponent.

However, at this point, Pizzuto’s natural death is imminent.

In this case, we question whether execution by lethal injection truly serves the purpose of justice or whether it fulfills a sense of vengeance.

Pizzuto has spent 34 years in an isolated cell on death row; executing him now seems pointless.

This is not an anti-death penalty argument, and that debate can be saved for another day.

Even though Pizzuto’s own circumstances — being tortured, raped and beaten by his stepfather and sometimes his stepfather’s friends, according to his defense attorneys — are being used as grounds for clemency, we are not swayed to call for clemency based on some sort of justification for his crimes.

Regardless of your feelings about capital punishment, in general, we just see little need for a lethal injection execution in this case.

As it is, Idaho’s history with lethal injections has been an embarrassment.

The Idaho Department of Correction has sought to keep secret the drugs it uses in lethal injections.

Idaho’s last execution was of Richard Albert Leavitt in 2012. A complaint filed in federal court alleges that Idaho Department of Correction authorities in that execution purchased Leavitt’s lethal injection drugs from a drug broker in India and procured the shipment of drugs with a suitcase of $10,000 in cash in a Walmart parking lot in Tacoma, Washington. A judge ruled the state violated state public records laws when IDOC officials kept those drugs secret. This all comes at a time when problems with lethal injection drugs have led to botched executions, sometimes with gruesome outcomes.

Pizzuto already faces a death sentence.

The state of Idaho should avoid the time and expense of a lethal injection execution. The Idaho Pardons & Parole Commission should grant clemency and allow Pizzuto to die of natural causes.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, editor Chadd Cripe and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J.J. Saldaña and Christy Perry.

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