The Idaho Legislature’s House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would add the firing squad as an alternative method of execution when lethal injection is unavailable.
As of now, lethal injection is the only form of execution in Idaho.
The state of Idaho has eight inmates on death row, and one of those inmates has been scheduled for execution. The state was scheduled to execute Gerald Pizzuto on Dec. 15 for the 1985 murder of Berta and Delbert Herndon outside of McCall. However, the Idaho Department of Correction was unable to obtain the chemicals necessary to execute Pizzuto by lethal injection and was unable to carry out the execution.
On Feb. 24, Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador announced the state obtained a new death warrant for Pizzuto, and the Idaho Supreme Court scheduled Pizzuto’s execution for March 23.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
In a Feb. 24 press release announcing the new death warrant, Labrador said the Idaho Department of Correction is working hard to acquire the lethal injection chemicals. Labrador also asked the Idaho Legislature to provide the state with an alternative method of execution.
Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, sponsored House Bill 186, which would add the firing squad as an alternative method of execution for the state of Idaho to use when lethal injections are unavailable. Skaug said he worked with Labrador’s office to draft House Bill 186 and ensure it passes constitutional muster.
Skaug said the inability to find suppliers to obtain lethal injection chemicals makes it impossible to carry out the sentence for anyone on death row in Idaho.
“So it’s a de facto end of executions in our state after the courts have already said that is what shall be done,” Skaug told legislators during a public hearing on his bill Wednesday.
Skaug suggested the state may not be able to carry out any more executions without amending state law to add an alternative method, such as the firing squad.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate chemicals used in lethal injections, and licensed physicians cannot prescribe the chemicals, Idaho Reports has previously reported.
If the firing squad bill is passed into law, the firing squad would become a backup method of execution behind lethal injection. It would be up to the Idaho Department of Correction to write the policies and procedures for carrying out executions by firing squad, Skaug said.
Skaug said Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt was unable to attend Wednesday’s public hearing and answer legislators’ questions. Skaug did not elaborate on why Tewalt was unable to attend.
Idaho allowed the use of firing squads previously but never used them in executions
Only two people testified during the public hearing on the firing squad bill Wednesday at the Idaho State Capitol. Deputy Attorney General LaMont Anderson, the lead attorney for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office’s capital litigation unit, said he supports the use of a firing squad as an alternative form of execution.
Anderson told legislators that the state does not have the lethal injection chemical Pentobarbital and cannot get it. Anderson said Pentobarbital is a viable means to complete an execution, and the Idaho Department of Correction used Pentobarbital for the 2012 execution of Richard Leavitt, the most recent person to be executed in the state of Idaho.
The problem is, Anderson said, companies and suppliers won’t provide the lethal injection out of a fear of public backlash.
“We cannot get them; there is no one that will supply them,” Anderson told legislators.
Anderson also offered a history of execution practices and policies in Idaho. Idaho used hanging as its method of execution until changing it to lethal injection in 1978 after the federal moratorium on the death penalty was lifted, Anderson said.
Need to get in touch?
Have a news tip?
In 1982, Idaho added the firing squad as an alternative method of execution, but never used it, Anderson said. In 2009, Idaho did away with the firing squad after Anderson and others pushed the state to mirror Kentucky’s protocols, after Kentucky’s method of using lethal injections were found by the U.S .Supreme Court to be constitutional, Anderson said.
Across the United States, there have been three executions carried out by firing squads since 1976, Anderson told legislators. All three executions took place in Utah, Anderson said. In addition to Utah, the states of Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Carolina also allow the use of a firing squad.
The Rev. Hillary Taylor, the executive director for the organization South Carolinians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, testified via video conference against the bill. Taylor said South Carolina’s 2021 law adding the electric chair and the firing squad as method of execution led to a costly and time-consuming process to create the policies for carrying out the firing squad and finding a suitable location for executions to take place. Taylor also said Idaho’s firing squad bill would likely be immediately challenged as cruel and unusual punishment if passed into law.
“Trying to legalize the firing squad is a waste of time and money,” Taylor told legislators.
In the end, the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee voted 13-3 to send House Bill 186 to the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives with a do-pass recommendation. Republican David Cannon, R-Blackfoot, voted against the bill after saying he believes the issue deserves a lot more study and consideration than one public hearing. Both Democrats on the committee, Reps. Chris Mathias and John Gannon, both of Boise, also voted against the bill.
The bill could reach the floor for a vote by the end of this week or early next week. If the Idaho House votes to pass House Bill 186, the bill would be sent to the Idaho Senate for consideration. If the bill passes both the Idaho House and Idaho Senate, it would be sent to Gov. Brad Little for final consideration. If the bill reaches his desk, Little could sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it.
Skaug’s firing squad bill is written so that it would take effect July 1 if passed into law.