Idaho death row inmate nearing execution wants a new clemency hearing. The last one ended in a tie

Feb 7, 2024, 2:06 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho man scheduled to be executed at the end of the month is asking a federal court to put his lethal injection on hold and order a new clemency hearing after the previous one resulted in a tie vote.

Thomas Eugene Creech is Idaho’s longest-serving death row inmate. He was already serving time after being convicted of killing two people in Valley County in 1974 when he was sentenced to die for beating a fellow inmate to death with a sock full of batteries in 1981.

Last month the state’s parole board voted 3-3 on Creech’s request to have his sentence changed to life without parole after one of is members recused himself from the case. Under state rules, a majority of the board must vote in favor of clemency for that recommendation to be sent to the governor.

But even that is no guarantee: The state also allows the governor to overrule clemency recommendations, and Gov. Brad Little said last week that he has “zero intention of taking any action that would halt or delay Creech’s execution.”

“Thomas Creech is a convicted serial killer responsible for acts of extreme violence,” Little said in a statement, later continuing, “His lawful and just sentence must be carried out as ordered by the court. Justice has been delayed long enough.”

During his clemency hearing, Ada County deputy prosecutor Jill Longhurst characterized Creech as a sociopath with no regard for human life. She noted his long criminal record, which also includes murder convictions in Oregon and in California. Yet another murder indictment in Oregon was dropped by prosecutors because he had already been given four life sentences there.

At times, Creech has claimed to have killed several more.

“The facts underlying this case could not be more chilling,” then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a 1993 opinion, upholding an Idaho law about when defendants can be sentenced to death. The ruling came after Creech appealed his sentence, arguing that the statute was unconstitutionally vague.

“Thomas Creech has admitted to killing or participating in the killing of at least 26 people,” O’Connor continued. “The bodies of 11 of his victims — who were shot, stabbed, beaten, or strangled to death — have been recovered in seven states.”

Creech’s defense attorneys say that the number of killings tied to him is highly exaggerated and that Creech, 73, has changed during his decades behind bars.

Creech has had a positive influence on younger inmates and went 28 years without a single disciplinary offense before being written up once in 2022 for a “misunderstanding over a card game,” lawyer Jonah Horwitz with the Idaho Federal Defenders Office said during his clemency hearing.

Creech has drawn support in his commutation request from some seemingly unlikely sources, including a former prison nurse, a former prosecutor and the judge who sentenced him death.

Judge Robert Newhouse told a clemency board last year that no purpose would be served by executing Creech after 40 years on death row. Doing so now would just be an act of vengeance, he said in a petition.

In their federal appeal seeking a new clemency hearing, Creech’s defense attorneys say having one board member absent from the decision put their client at an unfair disadvantage. Normally an inmate would have to convince a simple majority to get a clemency recommendation, but with one person missing, that became two-thirds of the board, his attorneys noted.

Either another board member should have stepped aside to avoid a tie vote or someone else should have been appointed to fill the seventh seat, they said.

Creech also has two appeals on other issues pending before the Idaho Supreme Court and has appealed another case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Idaho death row inmate nearing execution wants a new clemency hearing. The last one ended in a tie