Justices Allow Idaho Execution, But State 'Unable To Proceed'

By Katie Buehler and Jeff Overley | February 28, 2024, 10:36 AM EST ·

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared the way for Idaho to execute a man for the murder of a fellow inmate, refusing to review his claim that Idaho's continued execution of prisoners whose death sentences were issued by judges and not juries violates the Eighth Amendment.

Thomas E. Creech's execution was set for 10 a.m. local time on Wednesday, but within hours of the Supreme Court's action, the Idaho Department of Correction announced that officials had "determined that the medical team could not establish an IV line, rendering the execution unable to proceed."

"Mr. Creech will be returned to his cell and witnesses will be escorted out of the facility. As a result, the death warrant will expire," the department said. "The state will consider next steps."

Following the department's announcement, Creech's lawyers at the Federal Defender Services of Idaho said in a statement that they were "angered but not surprised that the state of Idaho botched the execution of Thomas Creech today."

"This is what happens when unknown individuals with unknown training are assigned to carry out an execution. This morning, they tried and failed 10 times to access Tom's veins in both of his arms and both legs so they could inject him with the state's mysteriously acquired pentobarbital," the lawyers said in a statement.

According to the statement, the state had dubbed Creech's concerns "patently absurd," but "what is absurd is Idaho's continuing efforts to kill this harmless old man, who by this point surely has suffered enough."

Creech, an alleged serial killer who pled guilty in 1983 to killing fellow inmate David Jensen, had asked the justices to review an Idaho Supreme Court decision dismissing his fourth successive challenge to an Idaho law allowing a judge, without a jury, to sentence him to death in 1983. The state court ruled Creech's newest challenge was filed too late.

In three separate orders Wednesday morning, the high court declined to block Creech's execution. "The application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice [Elena] Kagan and by her referred to the court is denied. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied," each order said.

Creech had called his death sentence unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court's 2002 ruling in Ring v. Arizona , which found judge-issued death sentences violated the Sixth Amendment. He added the Idaho court's dismissal of his petition violated due process principles.

He filed his first stay application with the Supreme Court on Feb. 21 and subsequently filed two additional stay applications aimed at different Idaho authorities.

The Idaho Attorney General's Office had no immediate comment on Wednesday.

Creech is represented by Jonah J. Horwitz and Nicole R. Gabriel of the Federal Defender Services of Idaho Inc.

Idaho is represented by Lawrence G. Wasden and L. LaMont Anderson of the Idaho Attorney General's Office.

The cases are Creech v. Idaho, case number 23-6791, Creech v. Tewalt et al., case number 23-6830, and Creech v. Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole et al., case number 23-6831, in the Supreme Court of the United States.

--Editing by Robert Rudinger.

Update: This article has been updated with the announcement by the Idaho Department of Correction.

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