Idaho's Longest-Serving Death Row Prisoner's Execution Is Delayed After Failed Attempt

Thomas Creech, 73, has been convicted of five murders in multiple states. Idaho has not had an execution since 2012.

The longest-serving man on Idaho’s death row, Thomas Creech, evaded execution on Wednesday because executioners were unable to establish an IV for the lethal injection procedure, according to the Idaho Department of Corrections.

His attorneys, advocates, the judge who sentenced him to death and the attorney who prosecuted him have all called for his life to be spared.

The 73-year-old had been sentenced to death twice: once after being convicted in the killing of two people in Valley County in 1974, and again in 1981, while serving out his sentence, when he was convicted of the killing of his cellmate. He has been convicted of five murders in all.

After multiple courts denied numerous appeals from his attorneys asking for mercy, Creech was set to be killed by lethal injection Wednesday at 10 a.m. local time.

According to witnesses’ accounts of the execution that was live-streamed by local outlet KXLY, Creech appeared to go in and out of consciousness. There were three medical staff — two assistants and one lead — orchestrating the execution, in which there were at least eight failed attempts to insert the IV in his arms and legs, witnesses said. At one point, one of the executioners stepped out of the room to get additional medical supplies.

Witnesses added that he appeared to mouth the words “I love you” to his wife, as well as “I’m sorry.”

“His eyes were glued to his family. He was strapped to the gurney, and he just kept his eyes on his family,” KTVB’s Brenda Rodriguez said after the failed execution attempt.

“Every time an IV was inserted there were noticeable snoring noises and visible shaking. It didn’t seem like he was in pain though,” Rodriguez continued.

“Mr. Creech will be returned to his cell and witnesses will be escorted out of the facility,” according to a statement from the IDOC. “As a result, the death warrant will expire. The State will consider next steps.”

His attorneys filed a motion for a stay immediately after, according to The Associated Press.

“Given the badly botched execution attempt this morning, which proves IDOC’s inability to carry out a humane and constitutional execution, undersigned counsel preemptively seek an emergency stay of execution to prevent any further attempts today,” Creech’s attorneys said in the motion.

His execution had been condemned by numerous people connected to his convictions, including at least one judge who played a role in him being put on death row.

When Creech received his sentences, judges were previously allowed to put individuals on death row without a decision from a jury. Jonah Horwitz, one of Creech’s attorneys, believes that’s cause for Creech to not be executed.

“You have essentially no one being executed in America today who is sentenced by a judge outside of Idaho,” Horwitz argued before the state’s Supreme Court, according to local outlet KMVT.

Judge Robert Newhouse, a judge who sentenced Creech to death, has argued that Creech’s execution is unnecessary and would only serve the purpose of vengeance as Creech has already spent decades on death row, according to The Associated Press.

Jim Harris, a former Ada County prosecutor who requested that Creech be sentenced to death for the killing of his cellmate, also spoke against Creech’s execution in November 2019.

“I don’t believe, quite frankly, that Tom Creech, at least based on the murder that he committed in the penitentiary, should be executed. And I don’t say that easily,” Harris told KIVI, calling it a “waste of time” and a “terrible waste of money.”

Creech was previously scheduled to be executed on Nov. 8 but was granted a stay of execution as the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole considered commuting his sentence in a January hearing. The effort was rejected with a tie vote of three to three because the seventh member had recused themself from voting. A majority vote is necessary for a commuted sentence.

When requesting Creech’s clemency hearing, his attorneys said in an October press release that he is a changed man who is remorseful for the killings and has formed bonds with inmates and prison staff inside the prison.

“He has steered younger prisoners onto better paths. He has found faith and shared it with others. He has improved himself and those around him, and lifted countless spirits through his poetry and music,” his attorneys said. “Mr. Creech’s execution will be devastating to the staff members and others who have grown close to him, and could trigger secondary trauma that they may never recover from.”

The Ada County Prosecutor’s Office has pushed for Creech’s execution to go forward, pointing to the murder of his previous cellmate. Creech also stabbed another inmate three months prior to that killing.

“If his sentence is commuted, he would go back into the general prison population where he would have more access to inmates, putting them at risk,” prosecutors argued in a January press release.

Creech has taken responsibility for dozens of murders in multiple states, but one of Creech’s attorneys, Horowitz, argued that those numbers were inflated.

Last month, Creech was named as the suspect in an October 1974 murder in San Bernardino County, California, after the county sheriff’s office renewed the investigation in November 2023, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff.

Creech has also had notable mental health struggles, attempting suicide at least once and having previously spent time in a psychiatric hospital. Death penalty experts and anti-death penalty advocates argue that the punishment is unfairly used against those who are most vulnerable, including individuals who have struggled with mental illnesses.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R), who has the authority to halt or delay executions in the state, declined to call off Creech’s execution.

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

Creech’s execution would have marked Idaho’s first execution since 2012.

In 2023, Little signed a law that would designate execution by firing squad as the backup for lethal injection, according to The Idaho Statesman, in case state officials are ever unable to obtain the hard-to-procure drugs for the lethal injection procedure. The state did obtain them ahead of Creech’s planned execution, however. The state is not legally required to disclose where or how it obtains lethal injection drugs.

While the death penalty is controversial, lethal injection in particular has been criticized for its lack of reliability. There have been numerous instances in which executions have been botched, like in the cases of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, despite injection being heralded as the most humane execution method.

In 2022, Joe Nathan James was set to be executed by lethal injection, but, similar to Creech, the executioners were unable to establish an IV. Instead of receiving a delay, James underwent a lengthy and bloody three-hour execution process in which the executioners prodded him multiple times and cut into his inner elbow, according to The Atlantic.

The lethal injection procedure’s notoriety has even led some individuals on death row to request death by firing squad, which is only legal in select states. And, recently, it led to the first lethal gas execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, which took place in Alabama last month, HuffPost previously reported.

In October, Deborah Czuba, with the Federal Defender Services of Idaho, slammed the state for obtaining the drugs in a rush to deliver “retribution at all costs.”

“Given the shady pharmacies that the State has obtained the lethal drugs from for the past two Idaho executions, the State’s history of seeking mock death warrants without any means to carry them out, and the State’s misleading conduct around its readiness for an execution, we remain highly concerned about the measures the State resorted to this time to find a drug supplier,” Czuba wrote in a press release.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve US, a nonprofit against human rights abuses, told HuffPost in a statement that “the death penalty is inherently brutal.”

“If Idaho tries to kill Thomas Creech again, it will not only be stripping him of all dignity and respect: It will be denying his humanity,” Foa said. “When executions repeatedly go catastrophically wrong, across different states, using different methods, it is clear that capital punishment itself is broken.”

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