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Idaho delays execution of serial killer Thomas Eugene Creech after failed lethal injection attempts

By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press
Published: February 28, 2024, 10:54am
2 Photos
This image provided by the Idaho Department of Correction shows Thomas Eugene Creech on Jan. 9, 2009. Creech, Idaho&rsquo;s longest-serving death row inmate, is scheduled to be executed at the end of the month. 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.
This image provided by the Idaho Department of Correction shows Thomas Eugene Creech on Jan. 9, 2009. Creech, Idaho’s longest-serving death row inmate, is scheduled to be executed at the end of the month. 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. (Idaho Department of Correction via AP) Photo Gallery

KUNA, Idaho (AP) — Idaho on Wednesday delayed the execution of serial killer Thomas Eugene Creech, one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the U.S., after a failed attempt at lethal injection.

Creech, 73, was imprisoned in 1974 and has been convicted of five murders in three states and suspected of several more. He was already serving life in prison when he beat a fellow inmate, 22-year-old David Dale Jensen, to death in 1981 — the crime for which Creech was to be executed more than four decades later.

Creech was wheeled into the room at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution on a gurney at 10 a.m. The warden announced he was halting the execution at 10:58 a.m.

Six Idaho officials, including Attorney General Raul Labrador, and four news media representatives, including an Associated Press reporter, were on hand to witness the attempt.

Idaho’s prison director said the medical team could not establish an IV line to administer the fatal drug. A team of three medical team members tried repeatedly to establish an IV, attempting sites in both of Creech’s arms and legs.

The IV sites appeared to be in the crook of his arms, his hands, near his ankles and in his feet. At one point, the medical cart holding supplies was moved in front of the media witness viewing window, partially obscuring the view of the medical team’s efforts. A team member also had to leave the execution chamber to gather more supplies.

With each of the attempts to insert an IV, the medical team would clean the skin with alcohol, inject a numbing solution, clean the skin again and then attempt to successfully place the IV catheter in a vein. Each attempt took several minutes, with medical team members palpating the skin around the IV site and looking closely while trying to position the needles.

Throughout the process, Creech frequently looked at his family members and representatives, who were sitting in a separate witness room. His arms were strapped to the table, but he frequently extended his fingers toward them, sometimes in a half-wave, sometimes just reaching.

He appeared to mouth “I love you” to someone in the room on occasion.

After the execution was halted, the warden approached Creech and whispered to him for several minutes, giving his arm a squeeze.

Creech’s attorneys immediately filed a new motion for a stay in U.S. District Court, saying “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.”

The Idaho Department of Corrections said its death warrant for Creech would expire, and that it was considering next steps.

Creech’s attorneys filed a flurry of late appeals hoping to forestall his execution. They included claims that his clemency hearing was unfair, that it was unconstitutional to kill him because he was sentenced by a judge rather than a jury and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

But the courts found no grounds for leniency. Creech’s last chance — a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court — was denied a few hours before the scheduled execution Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, Creech spent time with spent time with his wife at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution south of Boise and ate a last meal including fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and ice cream.

A group of about 15 protesters had gathered outside the prison Wednesday, at one point singing “Amazing Grace.”

An Ohio native, Creech has spent the vast majority of his life behind bars in Idaho, though his crimes occurred in several western states. He was first imprisoned in Idaho in 1974 for the shooting deaths of John Wayne Bradford and Edward Thomas Arnold, two house painters who had picked up Creech and his girlfriend while they were hitchhiking. He was serving a life sentence for those murders in 1981 when he beat Jensen to death. Jensen was disabled and serving time for car theft.

Jensen’s family members described him as a gentle soul who loved hunting and being outdoors during Creech’s clemency hearing last month. Jensen’s daughter was just four years old when he died, and she spoke about how painful it was to grow up without a father, piecing together everything she knows about her dad from other people’s descriptions and memories.

Creech’s supporters have pushed to have his sentence converted to life without parole, saying he is a deeply changed man. Several years ago he married the mother of a correctional officer, and former prison staffers said he was known for writing poetry and frequently expressing gratitude for their work.

During his clemency hearing, Ada County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jill Longhorst did not dispute that Creech can be charming. But she said he is nevertheless a psychopath — lacking remorse and empathy.

In addition to the Idaho murders, Creech was convicted of killing both William Joseph Dean in Oregon and Vivian Grant Robinson in California in 1974. He was also charged with killing Sandra Jane Ramsamooj in Oregon that year, but the charge was later dropped in light of his other murder sentences.

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In 1973, Creech was tried for the murder of 70-year-old Paul Schrader in Tucson, Arizona, but was acquitted of the crime. Authorities still believe he was responsible for Schrader’s death, and say that Creech provided information that led them to bodies of two people near Las Vegas and one person near Baggs, Wyoming.

Creech’s execution was to be Idaho’s first in 12 years.

Last year, Idaho lawmakers passed a law authorizing execution by firing squad when lethal injection is not available. Prison officials have not yet written a standard operating policy for the use of firing squad, nor have they constructed a facility where a firing squad execution could occur. Both of those things would have to happen before the state could attempt to use the new law, which would likely trigger several legal challenges in court.

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