An Idaho man convicted of brutally killing a woman nearly three decades ago and mutilating her body is set to be executed Tuesday, marking the first time witnesses will be allowed to watch the whole process of lethal injection in the state after a challenge by media organizations.
Richard Albert Leavitt, who was convicted in 1985 of killing 31-year-old Danette Elg of Blackfoot, is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 10 a.m. MDT Tuesday.
Death row inmates in Idaho and nationwide have challenged lethal injection procedures in part by claiming that the insertion of the IVs can be easily botched, resulting in excruciating pain or other problems. But until now, witnesses in Idaho and several other states were barred from watching the first part of the procedure.
The state made the policy change under order from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after The Associated Press and 16 other news organizations sued, contending Idaho's former policy preventing witnesses from viewing the first half of each execution violated the First Amendment rights of the public.
Leavitt was sentenced to death in 1985 for the brutal stabbing murder of 31-year-old Blackfoot resident, Danette Elg, the year before. He has maintained his innocence, but former U.S. Attorney Tom Moss, who was the Bingham County prosecutor who brought the case against Leavitt, says he has no doubt the condemned man is guilty of the crime.
Leavitt was arrested after authorities discovered Elg's body in her bedroom several days after she'd been killed. Prosecutors said Leavitt stabbed her repeatedly with exceptional force, and then cut out her sexual organs.
At his sentencing, former 7th District Judge H. Reynold George noted that Leavitt came from a law-abiding family, was married and steadily employed before his arrest, but said those mitigating factors were only "feathers on the scale when balanced against the grossly inhumane act of murder that went beyond all decency."
If the execution moves forward as planned, Leavitt will be the second person executed in Idaho in the past seven months and the first person in the state to be put to death using a single, lethal dose of the surgical sedative pentobarbital. The state's two previous lethal injection executions relied on toxic doses of three separate drugs.
In those two executions _ Keith Wells in 1994 and Paul Ezra Rhoades in 2011 _ witnesses were only allowed to view the second half of the procedure after the condemned inmate was strapped to a table and had the intravenous lines inserted in his arms. This time, witnesses will be allowed to watch as Leavitt is escorted into the death chamber, strapped down, connected to equipment to monitor his consciousness level and inserted with IVs.
On Sunday, Leavitt's attorneys filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court asking for a stay of execution and for the high court to consider the case. The Supreme Court denied both requests Monday afternoon.