BOISE – The governor of Idaho on Thursday rejected an official recommendation to commute the death sentence of an inmate dying of terminal cancer.
Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. 65, has been on death row for 35 years after being convicted of the July 1985 murder of two gold diggers in a cabin north of McCall. His execution was scheduled for June 2.
The Idaho Pardons and Parole Board said Thursday it had asked Gov. Brad Little to commute the sentence to life in prison. The vote was four to three.
In suggesting to modify the sentence, the panel quoted “Pizzuto’s current state of health and evidence of his reduced intellectual function”.
Pizzuto has bladder cancer, diabetes and heart disease and is confined to a wheelchair. He has been in palliative care since 2019.
In a letter Thursday afternoon responding to the commission, Little said he would not commute Pizzuto’s sentence, noting that the man committed the Idaho murders shortly after being released from prison from Michigan where he was convicted of rape.
“The gravity of Pizzuto’s brutal, senseless and indiscriminate killing spree strongly justifies the switch,” Little wrote.
Lawyers for Pizzuto of the Federal Defender Services of Idaho said in a statement they were grateful for the commission’s hard work and thoughtfulness, and had hoped Little would follow the commissioners’ lead “and commit Idaho to a higher ideal by sparing Mr. Pizzuto an unnecessary execution.
“We are devastated and heartbroken that the governor, without any mercy, so casually and swiftly rejected the Commission’s well-reasoned and thoughtful recommendation that Mr. Pizzuto deserves leniency,” wrote Deborah Czuba, supervising lawyer of the Commission. Capital Habeas unit.
The Pizzuto defense team will continue to seek other means to “prevent the purely vindictive and unnecessary execution of a terminally ill old man,” Czuba wrote.
“Sir. Pizzuto has been punished and suffers almost every day of his miserable life – over 35 years spent in an isolated cell on death row. Mercy is justified for the crippled and dying man he is now, and for a long time for the unloved and tortured boy who fell through the cracks, ”she wrote.
Clemency requests are rarely granted in the United States, with fewer than two granted each year since 1976 according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Court records show that Pizzuto’s life has been marred by violence since his childhood. Members of his family horrifically testified that Pizzuto had been tortured, raped and severely beaten repeatedly by his stepfather and sometimes by his stepfather’s friends, and suffered multiple brain injuries.
Pizzuto was camping with two other men near McCall when he met Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew Del Herndon, 37, who were prospecting in the area.
Prosecutors said Pizzuto, armed with a .22 caliber rifle, went to the Herndons’ cabin, tied their wrists behind their backs and tied their legs to steal their money. He clubbed them both.
Pizzuto is one of eight people on death row in Idaho.
Idaho has executed three people since the death penalty 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.