Gerald Pizzuto, Jr., has been on Idaho’s death row since his 1986 conviction of the murders of Berta Herndon and her nephew Del Herndon in 1985.
He is 66 years old, dependent on a wheelchair, diabetic, and on hospice care because of advanced bladder cancer. He suffers from the effects of repeated brain injuries and the horrific consequences of the sexual and physical abuse he suffered when he was a young child.
But none of these factors has discouraged Idaho officials from repeatedly setting execution dates for Pizzuto, knowing full well that the state doesn’t have the lethal injection drugs it needs to kill him.
In fact, one month after the state Pardons and Parole Commission voted to recommend reducing Pizzuto’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole in December 2021, Gov. Brad Little rejected the recommendation, and 11 months later, Attorney General Raúl Labrador obtained the second of five execution warrants Pizzuto has been issued since 2021.
But the Idaho AG’s sadistic insistence on repeatedly scheduling executions that the state can’t carry out was finally halted by Idaho’s U.S. Federal District Judge B. Lynn Winmill. In February, Winmill granted Pizzuto’s motion for a stay of execution scheduled for March. And earlier this month, Winmill ruled that another lawsuit filed by Pizzuto, claiming AG Labrador and the Idaho Department of Correction have violated Pizzuto’s Eighth Amendment (prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment) rights, can proceed.
“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. 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,” Judge Winmill wrote.
“Defendants’ alleged practice of keeping Pizzuto in a state of perpetual terror by scheduling and re-scheduling his execution, despite knowing that the lethal injection almost certainly will not be performed, plausibly constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”