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Death chamber glitch halts execution of serial killer Thomas Creech

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(WASHINGTON) — Serial killer Thomas Eugene Creech, Idaho’s longest-serving death row inmate, was spared from death on Wednesday after the medical team assigned to administer a lethal injection failed to establish an IV line, preventing the execution from proceeding, officials said.

The 73-year-old was to be executed at Idaho Maximum Security Institution near Boise about an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his last-minute request to stay his execution.

“Mr. Creech will be returned to his cell and witnesses will be escorted out of the facility,” the Idaho Department of Corrections said in a statement. “As a result, the death warrant will expire. The State will consider next steps.”

The surprise twist came after Associate Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan issued a decision Wednesday morning denying Creech’s request for a stay of execution, clearing the way for prison authorities to carry out the ultimate punishment.

Around 10 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, a six-member prison team escorted Creech, who was on a gurney, into the execution chamber and transferred to a hospital bed and strapped down.

Josh Tewalt, director of the Idaho Department of Corrections, said at a news conference that the medical team initially conducted a physical assessment of Creech and expressed confidence that they would be able to establish an IV to administer the lethal injection.

But once the execution began, the medical team quickly ran into problems.

“The team attempted eight times through multiple limbs and appendages to establish IV access, consistent with IDOC policy,” Tewalt said.

One of the problems was a “vein quality issue” with Creech that prevented the medical team from establishing an IV line, prompting the execution to be called off, according to Tewalt.

“This is a team of competent medical professionals,” Tewalt said, adding it would be a mistake to describe their efforts to place an IV into Creech as a failure.

He said there is no timeline has been established on when the state will attempt to execute Creech again.

Attorneys for Creech had filed a certiorari petition that the High Court halt the execution to give the panel time to review the decision by the Idaho Supreme Court denying Creech’s appeals.

“The application for a stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is denied,” the ruling said. “The edition for a write of certiorari is denied.”

Days before the execution, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said he had “zero intention” of halting the execution at Idaho Maximum Security Institution near Boise.

“Thomas Creech is a convicted serial killer responsible for acts of extreme violence,” Little said in a statement issued on Jan. 29. “His lawful and just sentence must be carried out as ordered by the court. Justice has been delayed long enough.”

In the petition to the Supreme Court, Creech’s attorneys argued that his due process rights were violated by the Idaho Supreme Court.

“Mr. Creech has identified a substantial need for guidance from the Court on an issue of great national importance and he has brought a strong vehicle for it to do so,” Creech’s attorney wrote in the petition, asking for “clarity on [the] question of when a state’s post-conviction regime affords little meaningful review to legitimate federal constitutional claims that it violates due process.”

The petition added, “There are strong reasons to suspect that at least some states have gone too far in limiting post-conviction review, thus calling for the Court’s intervention.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco also denied Creech’s latest appeal in a ruling issued Saturday, prompting attorneys for the condemned man to take their argument to the Supreme Court.

Prior to the death chamber glitch, the Idaho Department of Corrections issued a statement Wednesday morning saying it is prepared to move forward with Creech’s execution.

“Last night, Mr. Creech visited with his wife throughout the evening. Additionally, his religious advisor spent an hour with him this morning. Mr. Creech had fried chicken, mash potatoes with gravy, corn, rolls, and ice cream for his last meal. Mr. Creech has remained cooperative in the days leading up to the execution,” the corrections department statement read.

Creech, according to prosecutors, has been convicted of five murders in three states, including three committed in Idaho.

In a 1993 opinion issued by the U.S. Supreme Court denying an appeal filed by Creech, late Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “Creech admitted to killing or participating in the killing of at least 26 people.”

“The bodies of 11 of his victims — who were shot, stabbed, beaten, or strangled to death — have been recovered in seven states,” she said.

The last murder Creech pleaded guilty to occurred in 1981 at an Idaho maximum security prison when he killed 23-year-old David Dale Jensen, a disabled fellow inmate, by beating him to death with a sock filled with batteries, according to prosecutors. At the time of Jensen’s slaying, Creech was serving two life sentences for a double murder he committed in Idaho and had been convicted of murders in California and Oregon.

Creech argued in his recent appeal that his due process rights were violated by the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole and the Ada County, Idaho, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

At the commutation hearing in October, Ada County deputy prosecutor Jill Longhurst told the commission that Creech is a “sociopath” who has “utter disregard for human life.”

“Mr. Creech is a serial killer, and in 1981 said he would kill again, and he did,” Longhurst told the commission. “Thomas Creech is the most prolific serial killer in Idaho.”

Creech’s execution came despite pleas to spare him from the most unlikely advocates — prison staffers who have cared for him behind bars.

A former prison nurse, a former prosecutor, prison guards and even the judge who sentenced Creech to death all filed declarations backing his request for clemency, which was denied in a 3-3 vote on Jan. 29 by the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole.

Judge Robert Newhouse of the Fourth Judicial District Court in Boise, who sentenced Creech to death in 1983, said in his declaration to the commission that Creech should serve the rest of his life in prison and that executing him would “just be an act of vengeance.”

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