Idaho Supreme Court denies Thomas Creech’s appeals. His execution is scheduled soon

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Idaho’s first execution in nearly 12 years will continue as scheduled later this month after the state’s highest court Friday denied a stay of execution for Thomas Creech and dismissed two of the longtime death row prisoner’s state appeals.

Attorneys for Creech argued Monday before the Idaho Supreme Court requesting the stay. They said the constitutional rights issues raised in their client’s two appeals, the complexities of the cases and a plain reading of state law provided for the stay.

The court’s five justices unanimously disagreed, siding with the state district court that previously ruled against Creech in both cases.

In one case, the lower court ruled Creech was not entitled to claim he had received ineffective legal counsel during a prior sentencing, when he was handed the death penalty, on account of his attorneys at the time not presenting his history of childhood physical and sexual abuse and traumatic head injuries to the judge. Creech also did not file the appeal in a timely manner, according to Idaho law, wrote Richard Bevan, Idaho chief justice.

In the second case, Creech’s attorneys argued that their client’s death sentence should be thrown out because it was handed down by a judge, rather than a jury, and was therefore unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that only juries could impose a death sentence. Creech’s appeal was denied for not having been filed in a timely manner, according to Idaho law.

The Idaho attorney general’s office, which argued against Creech’s appeals, and Creech’s attorneys with the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon from the Idaho Statesman.

Creech, 73, has been incarcerated in Idaho for nearly 50 years, the majority of that time on death row. He has been convicted of five murders, including three in Idaho.

He first was convicted in Idaho of the November 1974 double-murder of Edward Thomas Arnold, 34, and John Wayne Bradford, 40, in Valley County. Creech was handed the death penalty, but his sentence was later dropped to life in prison after a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against automatic death sentences.

Creech was later convicted of the May 1981 murder of fellow prisoner David Dale Jensen, 23, while the two were serving in the Idaho maximum security prison. Creech pleaded guilty to Jensen’s murder and was again sentenced to death.

The Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole granted Creech a clemency hearing last month to consider whether to drop his sentence to life in prison, as he requested. The commissioners deadlocked in a 3-3 vote, which functioned as a denial of his clemency.

Creech’s attorneys sued the parole board and the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office in federal court, which argued against clemency for Creech following the parole board’s decision. That federal appeal remains active.

In another federal appeal, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded elements of a legal challenge to the lethal injection drugs intended for use in Creech’s execution. Creech’s attorneys were invited by the appellate court to refile their petition with the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.

Creech is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Feb. 28. Idaho has not executed a prisoner since June 2012.

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