Idaho: pardon denied for seriously ill death row inmate despite clemency recommendation

The governor of the U.S. state of Idaho is rejecting an official recommendation to commute the death sentence of an inmate suffering from terminal cancer.

Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. (65) has been on death row for 35 years after being convicted of killing two prospectors at a cabin north of McCall in July 1985.

The Idaho Board of Pardons and Paroles announced Thursday that it has asked Gov. Brad Little to commute the sentence to life in prison. The vote was a close one, 4 to 3. The panel cited Pizzuto’s “current health and evidence of his diminished mental capacity” as the reason for changing the sentence. Pizzuto has bladder cancer, diabetes and heart disease and is confined to a wheelchair. He has been receiving hospice care since 2019.

In a response letter to the commission Thursday afternoon, Little said he would not commute Pizzuto’s sentence. “The severity of Pizzuto’s brutal, senseless and indiscriminate rampage clearly militates against commutation,” Little wrote.

Pizzuto’s attorneys said in a statement, “We are shocked and heartbroken that the governor, showing no mercy whatsoever, so casually and quickly rejected the commission’s well-reasoned and thoughtful recommendation that Mr. Pizzuto deserves clemency.”

Court records show that Pizzuto’s life was marked by violence from childhood. Family members testified that Pizzuto was repeatedly tortured, raped and severely beaten by his stepfather and sometimes by his stepfather’s friends, and that he suffered multiple brain injuries.

Pizzuto is one of eight people on Idaho’s death row. Since the statewide reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Idaho has executed three people, in 1994, 2011 and 2012.