Execution: Family's Closure Comes 28 Years Later

Jun 12, 2012

Death row inmate Richard Leavitt became the second prisoner in seven months to be executed. He died Tuesday morning at 10:25 by lethal injection. He received sedatives throughout the night and at one point said he was "resolved" as to what was happening. Fellow inmates did not give him a card as they did before Paul Ezra Rhoades was executed in November.

Leavitt was convicted in 1985 for the brutal murder of Blackfoot resident Danette Elg. Her mutilated body was found a year earlier with multiple stab wounds. 

Four reporters watched Tuesday’s execution. They noted how quiet it was in the witness room but they also commented afterward about how respectful and professional the execution team was.

This was the first execution by lethal injection where witnesses could watch the entire procedure. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that witnesses, including select media, should be allowed to watch the entire process beginning when the inmate is brought into the room. This part of the execution took place behind a curtain in November.

The Idaho Department of Correction quickly changed how it handles executions to adapt to the court’s decision.  Director Brent Reinke says it was worth legally challenging the media’s request.

“In my opinion, it was,” he said.  “I think we’ve learned a lot in this process and we took the necessary steps to make sure we had a court order before we proceeded.”  

Reinke said the department practiced the procedure twice before Tuesday’s execution and took extra measures to conceal the identity of the medical team. 

Rebecca Boone is a reporter for the Associated Press and witnessed Leavitt’s execution. “We saw him (Leavitt) being brought in by the escort team,” she recalled. “It was almost like they were pallbearers.  There were six carrying the backboard.”   

Boone says the execution team strapped Leavitt to a table and three members of the medical team inserted IVs into his veins.  She says those examples of human interaction between the condemned and his executioners struck her. Boone also noted that the medical team’s faces were concealed behind head gear similar to a burka.

John Funk, a reporter for Nampa’s Idaho Press Tribune also witnessed the execution. Funk says in addition to the reporters and state officials, Elg’s sister Valynn Mathie was there.

“While we were waiting for the coroner to come in, after the execution had been carried out, she was kind of nodding silently,” Funk told reporters after the execution. “I mean I don’t know what she was thinking but I kind of interpreted that as kind of a solemn approval for what was going on.”

Mathie and her family issued the following statement after the execution:

 “We want to express thanks to everyone who has labored faithfully to uphold the laws of Idaho so that justice and retribution may be served. Closure is now possible for those of us who have lived with the horror of Danette's murder constantly overshadowing the joyful memories of her life. As family and friends of Danette we never have to think of Richard Leavitt again. Our memories can now focus on the brief time she was here sharing our lives and the joy of loving her.”

Anti-death-penalty protestors gathered throughout the morning at the state prison complex south of Boise as the execution team carried out the execution order. At the time of Leavitt’s death, about thirty people had gathered outside to read from prayer books and to hold up signs. Many of the protestors said they were Catholic and cited religious and moral reasons for opposing capital punishment.

Jeff Allen was among the protestors. He says his Catholic faith teaches him it’s wrong to kill. But he says when he was young he favored the death penalty. “In my youth I thought ‘an eye for an eye,’ I had that mentality,” Allen said. “That, slowly over time as I grew deeper in my faith, has changed. It all boils down to: all life is precious. And the way I live out my faith is doing everything I can to protect it.”

Idaho’s Department of Correction released Richard Leavitt’s body to Boise’s Aclesa Funeral Home for cremation Tuesday afternoon. Leavitt’s mother will collect his ashes Wednesday morning.

Now attention turns to when Idaho might conduct another execution. IDOC Director Brent Reinke put it this way. “I would anticipate in the first quarter of next year that may be possible,” he said. “But that would be a good question for Attorney General Wasden.” 

Lawrence Wasden isn’t about to guess when that next execution might happen. “It’s not really fair or appropriate for the victims’ families or for the defendants themselves for us to speculate when that may occur,” he said. “There are twelve people currently on death row.” 

Thomas Creech, Gerald Pizzuto, and Gene Stuart are three of those death row inmates.  They were convicted for first degree murder about thirty years ago and appear near the end of their court appeals.


Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio