Idaho stops execution of serial killer Thomas Creech after officials can’t set an IV line

Paradise Afshar, CNN | 3/1/2024, 12:11 p.m.
Officials in Idaho on Wednesday halted the execution of death row inmate and serial killer Thomas Creech after they were …
Thomas Creech poses in 2002 Mandatory Credit: Idaho Department of Correction/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

Officials in Idaho on Wednesday halted the execution of death row inmate and serial killer Thomas Creech after they were unable to set an intravenous line to carry out a lethal injection, according to a news release from the state Department of Correction.

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Idaho stops execution of serial killer Thomas Creech after officials were unable to set an IV line Source: KBOI, IDOC - IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, CNN

The aborted execution – which was to be the state’s first in 12 years, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center – is the latest example of a state struggling to carry out a lethal injection because of officials’ inability to establish an IV line. Alabama in 2022 called off two executions after officials couldn’t access the inmates’ veins.

The execution of Creech, 73, was deemed “unable to proceed” by Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt around 11 a.m., about an hour after it was expected to begin, according to a news release. Tewalt consulted with the medical team leader and “determined that the medical team could not establish an IV line.”

“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 release said. “The State will consider next steps.”

Creech’s execution was stopped just hours before Texas is scheduled to execute death row inmate Ivan Cantu for two murders he claims he did not commit. As of Wednesday, at least six more executions are set for this year in three of the 27 states, with the federal government, that have the death penalty on the books, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Creech, the longest-serving inmate on Idaho’s death row, was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to the murder of another inmate, David Dale Jensen, in 1981, while Creech was serving four life sentences, according to a January statement from the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office.

Creech has been convicted of an additional four murders, the statement noted, and he was “established to have have killed an additional six victims, and has admitted to killing upwards of 40 people.”

Indeed, in January, the San Bernardino, California, sheriff’s department announced it had solved a 50-year-old cold case in which investigators determined Creech killed a young man named Daniel Walker.

Creech’s execution Wednesday proceeded after the US Supreme Court rejected a series of the inmate’s last-minute appeals.

Executions are rare in Idaho. Since 1976, the state has only carried out three, per the Death Penalty Information Center.

Team tried 8 times for IV access to Creech

The Idaho corrections medical team had expressed confidence Wednesday morning before Creech’s scheduled execution that it could establish adequate access to his veins, Tewalt said in a news conference after the process was stopped.

In the execution chamber, “the team attempted eight times through multiple limbs and appendages to establish IV access consistent with” the department’s policy, he said.

In some instances, the team had “an access issue,” Tewalt said. At other times, it could establish access but encountered a “vein quality issue.” That “made them not confident in their ability to administer chemicals through the IV site once established,” the director said, and the decision was made to halt the execution.

Tewalt underscored the medical team’s “competence” and the department’s confidence in it - in preparation, the team established IV access on “every single member of our administrative team, including myself,” the director said – adding he believed it improper to call the execution “a failure.”

“They did their level best in a professional way that was respectful of the process,” Tewalt said, “and when it appeared that those efforts were going to be unsuccessful, they did the right thing and opted to stop additional efforts so we could evaluate next steps.”

Media witnesses at the execution also reported seeing the medical team attempt to establish IV access eight times. Throughout the process, Creech would look at the witnesses invited on his behalf, and sometimes waved his fingers or mouthed words to them, said Rebecca Boone, a reporter for the Associated Press.

At one point, Creech said his legs hurt, and the medical team attempted to relieve that discomfort, the media witnesses reported. Tewalt said Creech was experiencing a cramp.

Idaho also allows for firing squad, but lacks facilities

The department does not currently have a plan to proceed in the Creech case, Tewalt said.

“In terms of establishing when to seek another death warrant or if to seek another death warrant, I think those are discussions that have to happen in the days ahead,” Tewalt said.

He confirmed another attempt at a lethal injection would require the state to seek out new chemicals, but expressed confidence the state could do so.

A number of states have struggled in recent years with obtaining the necessary drugs to carry out lethal injections, contributing to a decline in the number of executions carried out across the United States. In light of those difficulties, Idaho last year passed legislation allowing for the firing squad as a means of execution if drugs are unavailable, or lethal injection is found to be unconstitutional.

However, Tewalt said Wednesday the state lacked the necessary facilities to carry out an execution with a firing squad. Asked if the department would consider using nitrogen gas for an execution, Tewalt said that would require a change to state law.

Alabama last month carried out the country’s first known nitrogen gas execution when it put to death Kenneth Smith, one of the two inmates there who – now, like Creech – survived an attempted lethal injection.

This is a developing story and has been updated.

CNN’s John Fritze contributed to this report.