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Idaho Supreme Court restores death row sentence to inmate

In an opinion on Tuesday, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the Governor can deny a recommendation for Gerald Pizzuto's sentence to be commuted to life.

BOISE, Idaho — Gerald Pizzuto Jr. was convicted of killing a woman and her nephew with a hammer in a robbery at a remote cabin near McCall in 1985, then sentenced to death -- and on Tuesday, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed that sentence after Gov. Brad Little denied the recommendation to re-sentence Pizzuto to life.

In 2021, the Idaho Commissions Board of Pardons and Parole voted 4-3, recommending to the governor that Pizzuto get life without parole rather than lethal injection. Pizzuto is one of eight people on Idaho’s death row. 

Attorneys claimed Pizzuto had brain damage, was raped and beaten as a child and considered mentally impaired. His lawyers told the clemency board prior that he uses a wheelchair and is dying of advanced bladder cancer, and no longer a threat to anyone. He was placed on hospice care in 2019, with doctors estimating then he had about a year left to live.

Little later denied that recommendation from the ICBPP in late December of 2021. But, Pizzuto's lawyers sued. 

They claimed his decision was unconstitutional, because the Idaho Constitution gives pull power of pardoning to the ICBPP. A district judge concurred with this notion, writing that "Article IV, Section of the Idaho Constitution does not provide the governor of the state with the power of commutation."

Pizzuto was spared -- momentarily.

The state then appealed the ruling to the Idaho Supreme Court, where the decision made on Tuesday effectively reversed the decision from the lower district court. 

"Addressing Pizzuto’s constitutional concerns, the Court held that the process created by the Legislature under Idaho Code section 20-1016 does not offend the Idaho Constitution because it is “consistent with the course set by the 1986 amendment to Article IV, section 7, which allowed the Legislature to ‘create’ a new Board and govern the Commission’s commutation powers ‘by statute,'" an ISC summary said.

The governor’s rejection of the commission’s recommendation to commute Pizzuto’s death sentences was proper, they ruled.

Pizzuto's death sentence is now restored.


Pizzuto was camping near Ruby Meadows in Idaho County with two other men when he came across 58-year-old Berta Herndon and her 37-year-old nephew Del Herndon, who were prospecting in the area. Pizzuto entered their cabin, tied the pair up and beat them with a hammer, before stealing their belongings and bragging that he had “put those people to sleep, permanently" court records show. 

According to previous reporting by KTVB, Pizzuto kidnapped and raped a woman at gunpoint in Michigan in 1975. He was convicted, served nine years in prison, but absconded from parole after he was released and made his way to Seattle. 

In Washington, he strangled 51-year-old Rita Drury to death in her home in March 1985. Later, he shot 31-year-old John Jones to death. Before being tracked down by police, Pizzuto made his way to Idaho, where he murdered the Herndons.

Days later, Pizzuto pulled a gun on another man he had met at Gold Fork Hot Springs, robbed him, and left him tied to a tree, according to previous reporting from KTVB.

Pizzuto, later convicted of the double-murder, was sentenced to death in 1986. His lethal injection date was set for June 2, 2021.


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