BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Attorneys for an Idaho man scheduled to be put to death for a pair of murders are asking state officials to block the execution.
Members of the Federal Defender Services of Idaho’s capital habeas unit filed a clemency petition on April 19 to the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole on behalf of Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr., who is scheduled to be executed on June 2.
Pizzuto signed the clemency petition on April 9, over a month before his death warrant was actually signed. Judge Jay Gaskill, the administrative judge for Idaho’s Second Judicial District, did that last Thursday.
Pizzuto has been on Idaho’s death row for 34 years after he was found guilty of killing two people — Berta Herndon and her nephew, Del Herndon — in Idaho County in 1985.
Pardons and Parole commissioners plan to review the clemency petition during an executive session on May 18, according to a news release from the federal defender’s office. The attorneys are asking for the parole board to commute Pizzuto’s sentence so he can die naturally in prison.
Pizzuto’s attorneys say the 65-year-old has been in hospice care for over a year, and he suffers from late-stage bladder cancer, Type 2 diabetes and chronic heart disease that has caused heart attacks, among other ailments.
“(Pizzuto) is not expected to live much longer and could die any day now,” the federal defender’s office said in a news release.
In addition to his medical state, Pizzuto’s attorneys said granting clemency would be an act of mercy for a man who was tortured as a child and repeatedly sexually assaulted by his stepfather.
The clemency petition, which was made public Tuesday, includes testimony from Pizzuto’s family members that describe the torture he endured as a child. Medical records in the petition outline Pizzuto’s ailments and the medications he takes.
“Mr. Pizzuto was born into a terrifying world of child abuse not of his making. He is now a prisoner of his own broken-down, disease-riddled body. He poses no threat to anyone,” the federal defender’s office said in the release.
“Executing him would be a needless race against his imminent death from terminal illness, as well as a waste of time, resources, and taxpayer money.”
Pizzuto was sentenced in 1986 for the murders of the Herndons. According to an appeal filed to the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2020, Pizzuto forced the two into their mountain cabin while he held a .22-caliber rifle. He later tied them up and bludgeoned them with a hammer. Berta Herndon died from the hammer blows, and Del Herndon died after Pizzuto shot him in the head. Pizzuto stole money from the two and later bragged about the killings to associates, according to the Supreme Court appeal.
The federal defender’s office said numerous religious leaders in Idaho — such as Episcopalian and Catholic bishops, and leaders of Methodist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Lutheran and Jewish congregations — support the clemency claim.
“Given that his death is approaching, granting Mr. Pizzuto clemency at this time would be a testimony of prudent adjudicatory oversight and a witness to the soul-affirming gift of mercy,” the Rev. Brian Thom, an Episcopalian, said in a letter to the parole board.
Pizzuto is being housed at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution near Boise. All Idaho executions take place in the prison’s F-block.
Including Pizzuto, there are seven men and one woman on death row in Idaho.