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Idaho inmate’s execution canceled, pending clemency hearing

Idaho

BOISE (AP) — A scheduled June execution for an Idaho man who is dying of terminal cancer has been canceled so the state’s Commission of Pardons and Parole can consider whether to commute his sentence.

Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. was scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 2 in connection with the 1985 murders of two people at a remote Idaho County cabin. On Tuesday, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole granted Pizzuto’s request for a commutation hearing, and attorneys for the state and Pizzuto agreed that the execution should be stayed until the hearing is concluded.

The hearing will be held in November, the commission said.

“We are so grateful Mr. Pizzuto will not be executed on June 2, and that the Commission has granted a clemency hearing for him. We look forward to proving that he deserves mercy,” Deborah Czuba, a supervising attorney with the Federal Defender Services of Idaho’s Capital Habeus Unit, said in a statement.

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

“Mr. Pizzuto has spent 35 years on death row and is now dying from cancer and other diseases,” Czuba said. “He also was brutalized throughout his childhood by his stepfather, a serial pedophile and sadistic man who beat, raped and humiliated him on a regular basis for years. Our hope is that he will be allowed to die naturally in prison.”

Court records show Pizzuto’s life was marred by violence from childhood. Family members offered gruesome testimony that Pizzuto was repeatedly tortured, raped and severely beaten by his stepfather and sometimes by his stepfather’s friends, and he sustained multiple brain injuries.

Pizzuto was camping with two other men near McCall when he encountered 58-year-old Berta Herndon and her 37-year-old nephew Del Herndon, who were prospecting in the area. Prosecutors said Pizzuto, armed with a .22 caliber rifle, went to the Herndon’s cabin, tied their wrists behind their backs and bound their legs to steal their money. He bludgeoned them both, and co-defendant James Rice then shot Del Herndon in the head. Another co-defendant, Bill Odom, helped bury the bodies and all three were accused of robbing the cabin.

Pizzuto is one of eight people on Idaho’s death row.

Idaho has executed three people since capital punishment was resumed nationwide in 1976.

Keith Eugene Wells was executed in 1994, Paul Ezra Rhodes was executed in 2011 and Richard Albert Leavitt was executed in 2012.

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