Execution delayed for Idaho man after parole board grants clemency hearing - East Idaho News
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Execution delayed for Idaho man after parole board grants clemency hearing

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho death row inmate Thomas Creech’s scheduled execution next month was delayed Wednesday after the state’s parole board granted him a clemency hearing to consider dropping his death sentence to life in prison.

An Ada County judge last week signed a death warrant for Creech, a convicted quadruple murderer and the state’s longest-serving death row inmate. Idaho prison officials quickly issued notice that they already have the lethal injection drugs needed to end Creech’s life. It would be the state’s first execution in more than 11 years.

The judge set a Nov. 8 date for his execution by lethal injection, which now has been canceled. The parole board has yet to schedule a date for Creech’s clemency hearing, Ashely Dowell, executive director of the state’s Commission of Pardons and Parole, told the Idaho Statesman by email.

RELATED | Death warrant signed. Longest-serving Idaho death row inmate set for November execution

Creech’s attorneys with the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho last week petitioned the parole board to schedule a hearing to review whether to let their client finish out a life sentence without the chance of parole. In their 256-page filing, a copy of which the nonprofit provided to the Statesman last week, they argued that Creech, 73, should be allowed to live out his days in prison and die of natural causes.

Retired Ada County Judge Robert Newhouse of Idaho’s 4th Judicial District handed a death sentence to Creech for killing fellow prisoner David Dale Jensen when they were both serving time in maximum security prison in 1981. Along with six former Idaho Department of Correction officials for whom Creech developed close-knit relationships during decades in lockup, Newhouse advocated in the petition against executing Creech.

“Creech has spent more than 40 years on death row with the threat of execution hanging over him,” Newhouse wrote in a declaration signed in August. “I believe that time, along with spending the rest of his life in prison, is punishment enough. An execution now would just be an act of vengeance.”

The parole board’s deliberation and decision, held in a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning, postponed Creech’s scheduled execution in three weeks. In an email to the Statesman after the meeting, Dowell did not disclose the seven-member panel’s vote.

The Federal Defender Services did not immediately respond Wednesday morning to a request for comment. The Statesman has also reached out for comment from the Idaho attorney general’s office and governor’s office.

Meanwhile, Idaho Department of Correction spokesperson Sanda Kuzeta-Cerimagic told the Statesman correction officials were aware of Wednesday morning’s development. But their preparations for Creech’s Nov. 8 lethal injection will continue until an official stay of execution is entered, she said.

“At that point, Mr. Creech would be returned to his regular housing assignment” on death row, Kuzeta-Cerimagic said in a statement.

Altogether, Creech has been incarcerated in Idaho for nearly 50 years — the bulk of them on death row after a conviction for two murders in Valley County in 1974 before Jensen’s murder in 1981. He also was convicted in Oregon of another murder in 1974, and previously claimed to have killed or been involved in the deaths of at least 26 people, according to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Arave v. Creech. Creech’s attorneys had argued the term “utter disregard” for human life was too broad to use as an aggravating factor for his death penalty case. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor issued the court’s 7-2 decision against Creech.

Creech’s standing death sentence relates to Jensen’s murder, for which he pleaded guilty.

“The facts underlying this case could not be more chilling,” O’Connor wrote in her opinion for the 1992 case.

At the time, Creech, then 30, got into a fight with Jensen, a 23-year-old Pocatello man convicted of felony theft. Jensen was physically disabled before entering prison after having part of his brain removed and a plastic plate inserted into his head.

Creech used a sock filled with batteries to beat Jensen to death, according to an Idaho Supreme Court narrative cited by O’Connor. The plastic plate in Jensen’s skull shattered and he fell to the floor, where Creech continued to beat him. When the sock broke, Creech kicked Jensen in the head and throat.

After a prison guard discovered blood on the floors and wall, Jensen was taken to the hospital, where he died later that day, the court narrative read. Creech was charged with first-degree murder, including several aggravating circumstances that made him eligible for the death penalty.

In the clemency hearing petition submitted to the parole board last week, Creech described himself as a “devout Christian” and apologized to the Jensen family for the pain he caused them. He said he was remorseful for all of the crimes he has committed.

“I regret killing David Jensen more than anything I’ve ever done in my life,” Creech wrote in a declaration signed the day before being served a death warrant. “I’ve changed a lot since 1981. I’m not the person I was. I believe I’ve touched a lot of hearts in the last 40 years. If my sentence were commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole, I would do my best to continue having a positive impact on people’s lives.”

The parole board’s decision Wednesday to provide Creech a formal clemency review marks the second time in two and a half years it has granted such a hearing to an inmate with an active death warrant.It’s just the third time the board has done so since Idaho reinstated the death penalty in the late 1970s. The two prior known times occurred in 2021 and 1996.

In the most recent instance, the parole board held a two-day review in November 2021 for death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto — a convicted double-murderer who is Idaho’s second-longest serving death row inmate, behind only Creech. The board voted 4-3 to grant life in prison to Pizzuto, another Federal Defender Services client, before Gov. Brad Little overruled the decision and maintained Pizzuto’s death sentence.

The case launched a legal battle over whether the Idaho Constitution provides the governor the authority to reject the parole board’s decisions. The Idaho Supreme Court ruled unanimously that he does.

Pizzuto, 67, on death row since 1986, remains there today. A federal judge in Idaho issued a stay of execution in August over a legal challenge that argued a state repeatedly issuing a death warrant to a prisoner without having the lethal injection drugs needed to perform an execution may represent cruel and unusual punishment.

Before that, the only other time Idaho is believed to have held a clemency hearing for a death row inmate was in 1996, when the board reviewed the case of convicted murderer Donald Paradis. The board voted 3-2 to recommended his death sentence be commuted to life in prison, which then-Gov. Phil Batt granted over some doubts whether Paradis was guilty, Batt said at that time.

In 2001, Paradis was released from prison after 21 years of incarceration, including 14 on death row.