Death row execution abandoned with inmate strapped to medical table

February 28, 2024

The execution of one of the longest-serving death row inmates has been called off after prison officials were unable to deliver his lethal injection.

Thomas Eugene Creech, who has been convicted of five murders and is suspected of several more, was due to be executed at 10am local time (5pm UK time) in a maximum-security Idaho prison.

But the execution was abandoned at 10.58am after prison officials were unable to place the catheter into a vein.

The 73-year-old's death warrant will now expire.

Reporters permitted to witness the attempted execution said the IV sites appeared to be in the crook of his arms, his hands, near his ankles and in his feet.

They said that 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.

An official also had to leave the execution chamber to gather more supplies.

Each attempt to insert an IV took several minutes and saw the medical team 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.

Creech was seen repeatedly looking at his family members and representatives, who were sitting in a separate witness room during the process.

Although his arms were strapped to the table, 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 decision to halt the execution, 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 in a statement: "At approximately 11am, Director Tewalt, after consulting with the medical team leader, 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 State will consider next steps."

It came after what appeared to be his final chance at a last-minute reprieve was denied by the Supreme Court, despite claims his execution should be delayed so a court could weigh his claim prosecutors lied.

A flurry of late appeals against the execution had previously been dismissed by judges in four courts.

Supporters said he had changed and asked for his sentence to be converted to life in prison, arguing he had become kind and supportive while behind bars.

While prosecuting lawyer Jill Longhurst admitted he could be polite and friendly with prison staff, she described him as a "psychopath" who lacked remorse and empathy for others.

In details released before his scheduled execution, officials said he would be offered a mild sedative to calm him before he was killed.

He was then due to be taken to the execution chamber and strapped to a padded medical table, where volunteers were supposed to insert a catheter into one of his veins before he was injected with a lethal drug.

It was due to end a 50-year spell in prison, with Creech having been originally sentenced to death for shooting dead John Wayne Bradford and Edward Thomas Arnold.

But that sentence was changed to life in prison after the state's sentencing law was found to be unconstitutional.

Then, in 1983, he was sentenced to death for the murder of David Dale Jensen, who was 22, disabled and serving time for a car theft when Creech beat him to death in prison on 13 May 1981.

In addition to the Idaho murders, Creech has been convicted of two killings in 1974 - William Joseph Dean in Oregon and Vivian Grant Robinson in California.

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.

In 1973, Creech was tried for the killing of 70-year-old Paul Schrader in Arizona, but was cleared of the crime.

Authorities still believe him to be responsible for Mr Schrader's death, and say Creech provided information leading them to bodies of two people near Las Vegas and one person in Wyoming.

Creech's supporters had pushed to have his sentence converted to life without parole, saying he was a deeply changed man.

Several years ago he married the mother of a prison officer, and former staff said he was known for writing poetry and expressing gratitude for the work done by the prison team.

Creech's execution was set to be the second in the US this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.

The first was in Alabama last month, when Kenneth Eugene Smith controversially became the first to be executed using nitrogen gas.

Alabama officials said the method was humane and predicted death would take a few minutes, but Smith seemed to remain conscious for several minutes and appeared to writhe in agony for at least two minutes.

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