How Chad Daybell, Bryan Kohberger cases are bringing renewed attention to Idaho's death penalty

The high-profile nature of Daybell and Bryan Kohberger's cases will bring renewed attention to Idaho's death penalty.

ByDakin Andone, CNN CNNWire logo
Monday, June 3, 2024
Idaho jury decides Chad Daybell should be sentenced to death for 3 murders
An Idaho jury decided Saturday that Chad Daybell should be sentenced to death for killing his first wife and two of his second wife's children.

BOISE, Idaho -- Chad Daybell was sentenced to death for the murders of his wife and two of his second wife's children this weekend, but when and whether he will be executed remain wide-open questions.

It's typical for the appeals process in capital cases to go on for years, and they often reach the US Supreme Court before an inmate is ultimately put to death. In Idaho, the imposition of a death sentence is followed by a mandatory post-conviction review, and defendants are able to pursue an appeal after the filing of a death warrant.

In the meantime, the high-profile nature of Daybell's case and the looming capital trial of Bryan Kohberger, who's pleaded not guilty in the killings of four University of Idaho college students - will bring renewed attention to Idaho's death penalty, which is seldom used and attracted headlines earlier this year when officials halted their first execution attempt in more than a decade.

Here's what to know about the death penalty in Idaho.

Executions are uncommon

Executions are relatively rare in Idaho, which, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, has carried out just three executions since 1976, when the US Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment. The first was in 1994, followed by two others in 2011 and 2012.

To put this in context, Texas has put to death 580 inmates within the timeframe, DPIC's data show - by far the most of any state. And Oklahoma, which has carried out the highest number of executions per capita, has executed 124.

Only a handful of the 27 states where the death penalty remains legal have carried out as few executions as Idaho: Kentucky, Montana and Pennsylvania have also each put to death three people since 1976. Kansas, Wyoming and Oregon have executed even fewer, with zero, one and two executions, respectively.

Additionally, Idaho's death row housed just eight inmates prior to Daybell's sentence, according to the Idaho Department of Corrections. California - which, it should be noted, has a population more than 21 times the size of Idaho - has 638 condemned inmates, nearly 80 times the size of Idaho's death row.

Officials recently halted an execution

Idaho officials attempted to carry out the state's first execution in 12 years several months ago. But they were forced to abort midway through the procedure, citing difficulties setting an intravenous line to deliver the fatal drugs for lethal injection.

That echoed difficulties seen in executions in other states, including Alabama. Officials there similarly had to call off two executions in 2022 after authorities were unable to access the inmates' veins before their death warrants expired.

The execution of Thomas Creech, scheduled in Idaho for February 28, was "unable to proceed" after eight failed attempts to establish IV access, state Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt said at the time. The execution team encountered two different issues, Tewalt said at a news conference: In some instances it was "an access issue," and in others a "vein quality issue."

Tewalt praised the medical team's willingness to halt the execution, telling reporters the state's "first objective is to carry this out with dignity, professionalism and respect," and he disputed the suggestion the execution was a "failure." The department said in a statement Creech's warrant would expire while the state considered next steps.

2 execution methods, both with challenges

The decision to call off Creech's execution also raised questions about when and how the state would endeavor to put an inmate to death in the future.

Tewalt told reporters a second attempt using lethal injection - Idaho's main method of execution - would require the state to seek out new chemicals.

While he expressed "a high level of confidence" the state could secure the drugs, a number of states have struggled in recent years to obtain them after pharmaceutical companies began prohibiting the use of their products for that purpose. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, for example, has repeatedly postponed executions citing companies' unwillingness to sell the drugs necessary.

Idaho recently legalized a second method of execution, with an aim toward sidestepping this kind of supply problem. Last year, Gov. Brad Little signed a new law allowing the department of corrections to use the firing squad if the drugs are not available.

But as of late February, the state lacked the facilities it needed to carry out an execution by firing squad, Tewalt said. In a message to corrections staff, the director said his department had been working to retrofit its execution chamber to accommodate the alternative method.

"Those initial efforts were unsuccessful because contractors who would engage in this type of work have expressed their unwillingness to work on a project related to executions," Tewalt said, "but efforts are ongoing."

The director added construction on the execution chamber would prevent the state from being able to use it - even for lethal injection - until the work is completed.

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