BOISE -- A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on executions may impact certain Idaho death row cases.
Tuesday, the high court struck down a law used by Florida that puts a strict cut-off on a person's IQ to determine if they can legally be executed. That Florida law is similar to Idaho's.
This ruling could potentially change the case of one Idaho inmate: Gerald Pizzuto. He has been on Idaho’s death row for nearly three decades.
Pizzuto has claimed in appeals that he is too mentally disabled to be legally executed. So far, courts have rejected that. Now, this Florida case means his case will be resubmitted.
Idaho laws currently say that the death penalty cannot be imposed on a person with "significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning" and at least two other qualifiers, in areas such as limited functioning in work, school or self-care.
Like Florida's law, Idaho defines the cutoff for "significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning" as an IQ of 70 or below. That statute means amongst other qualifiers, a person with an IQ of 70 or below means they can't be legally executed.
Gerald Pizzuto was sentenced to death in 1986 for beating Berta Herdon and her nephew Del Herdon to death near McCall. He's appealed, with verbal IQ test scores of 72, just two points above the cutoff that would disqualify him for execution.
The Florida case in the Supreme Court's ruling is similar. In that case, a convicted murderer, Freddie Lee Hall, had evidence of an IQ of 71. The Florida law reads similar to Idaho's, so courts ruled he could be put to death.
Hall's argument, as Pizzuto's has been, is that a margin of error of five points should be used. The Supreme Court agreed, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing, "Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number," and that the "IQ test is imprecise."
The ruling means Hall must be allowed to present additional evidence that he's mentally disabled.
We corresponded with Pizzuto's Sacramento-based attorney Joan Fisher and asked her how the Supreme Court ruling pertains to Pizzuto and his case, and what will change moving ahead.
She said, "The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered supplemental briefing following the decision in Hall. Mr. Pizzuto, like Mr. Hall, was first sentenced before the Supreme Court had ruled that the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from imposing the death penalty on persons suffering from intellectual disability. Mr. Pizzuto, like Mr. Hall, was subject to a rigid, scientifically invalid assessment of his intellectual disability. That should now change."
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has been waiting on that Supreme Court decision, and now that it's done, will look at Pizzuto's case again. The court ordered Pizzuto to resubmit after the Hall decision.
We also asked Fisher if the ruling could potentially take people, including Pizzuto, off of death row.
Fisher wrote: "The ruling is of great constitutional and practical significance. If applied correctly, it will result in a more reliably accurate assessment of the intellectual disability of a number of individuals --including Mr. Pizzuto-- whose claims have been rejected on an unconstitutional basis."
We are still waiting to hear from the Idaho Attorney General's Office on what this Supreme Court ruling will mean for the actual language of Idaho's law and any court processes in the future.
Click here to read Idaho's law.
Click here to read the Supreme Court decision.