BOISE, Idaho — Prison officials executed a convicted killer Tuesday for brutally stabbing a woman nearly three decades ago as witnesses watched the whole process of lethal injection for the first time in Idaho.
The execution of Richard Leavitt was unprecedented in the state due to the expanded access granted to media and other state witnesses. The Associated Press and 16 other news groups sued last month, arguing that Idaho Department of Correction policy barring witnesses from viewing a lethal injection last November in its entirety violated the First Amendment and the public's right to know.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ordering Idaho prison officials to open the curtain immediately after Leavitt entered the execution chamber, enabling witnesses to oversee as executioners insert IV catheters into Leavitt's body.
Leavitt, 53, was pronounced dead at 10:25 a.m. at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution.
Afterward, all four media witnesses said it was critical to see the process from start to finish, to give the public a better understanding of the process or any difficulties that could emerge. Media witnesses watched, for the first time during an Idaho lethal injection, as Leavitt was escorted into the execution chamber, transferred to a gurney and had catheters inserted into his arms.
Witnesses said the execution was uneventful. Leavitt declined to make a final statement.
"I am happy with how this turned out today," said Brent Reinke, the state's prisons chief. "I am grateful that we have four media witnesses here to tell you what they saw. Our goal was to make this as professional as possible with dignity and respect, and I believe we met that mark."
The insertion of IV catheters, used to deliver lethal doses of sedatives and other chemicals, has come under fire in recent years. Death row inmates in Idaho and other states have challenged the procedure on grounds the insertion of the catheters can cause delays, excruciating pain or other complications.
Reinke said the agency and its execution team made adjustments to comply with the federal court order. Execution team members donned masks and goggles to ensure their anonymity. Reinke said the team held two dress rehearsals in recent days to adjust to policy changes sought by the news groups.
Leavitt was convicted in 1985 for stabbing and mutilating 31-year-old Danette Elg. He did not ask to see a spiritual adviser.
Late Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Leavitt's last-minute request to stay the execution, clearing the way for Idaho to put to death its second inmate in 17 years. In November, Paul Ezra Rhoades was died by lethal injection for his role in the slaying of three people in eastern Idaho.
About 29 people gathered outside the prison south of Boise to protest the execution and the state's capital punishment law.
"Justice was done today," said Tom Moss, a former U.S. attorney in Idaho who prosecuted the case when he served as Bingham County attorney.
Leavitt was arrested after authorities discovered Elg's body in her bedroom several days after she'd been killed. Prosecutors said Leavitt stabbed her repeatedly with exceptional force, and then cut out her sexual organs.
At his sentencing, former 7th District Judge H. Reynold George noted that Leavitt came from a law-abiding family, was married and steadily employed before his arrest, but said those mitigating factors were only "feathers on the scale when balanced against the grossly inhumane act of murder that went beyond all decency."
AP reporter Todd Dvorak contributed to this story.