On January 19, 2024, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole held a clemency hearing for Thomas Creech, who has been on death row for nearly 44 years. The Commission will now decide whether to recommend to Governor Brad Little that Mr. Creech’s death sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole. By law, the governor is not required to follow the Commission’s recommendation. Mr. Creech faced a scheduled execution date in November 2023, but the Commission stayed the execution so that it could decide his clemency request. Mr. Creech is also serving a life sentence for a double murder committed in 1974. Mr. Creech, now 73, was sentenced to death in 1981 and has spent more than half of his life on Idaho’s death row.

During Mr. Creech’s clemency hearing, his defense attorney, Jonah Horwitz, told the Commission that his client is no longer the man he was in 1981. Focusing on the idea that the death penalty is meant to be reserved for the worst of the worst, Mr. Horwitz asked “whether the Tom Creech of 2023 is among the worst of the worst.” A video presented at the clemency hearing highlighted Mr. Creech’s positive impact on younger prisoners, as well as his family and friends, including his wife, LeAnn Creech, who married Mr. Creech after being introduced to him by her son, a former corrections officer. “He’s where he is because of things he did when he was younger, but that’s not the person I know now,” said Mrs. Creech. 

Mr. Horwitz also highlighted Mr. Creech’s near-perfect disciplinary record that includes just one disciplinary write-up in 2022 for what he called a “misunderstanding over a card game.” Many former Idaho Department of Corrections employees confirmed Mr. Creech’s exemplary prison record, as well as his respect and cooperativeness with guards and prison staff. Kathy Niecko, a former nurse at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, told the Commission that Mr. Creech had shown her a level of gratitude no other prisoner has ever expressed. Ms. Niecko asked the Commission to “try to see [Mr. Creech] as the man he is now.” Mr. Horwitz also told the Commission that former Ada County Prosecutor Jim Harris and former Judge Robert Newhouse, both involved in Mr. Creech’s initial trial, believe his sentence should be commuted. Judge Newhouse told Mr. Creech’s attorneys that “no purpose would be served by executing [him] now” after more than 40 years of incarceration. That would “just be an act of vengeance,” not of justice.

In closing, Mr. Creech read a poem to his younger self, and told the Commission that he is “very sorry for it… I’m sorry my actions, for everything I’ve done. It was wrong. I wish I could go back and change it.” Mr. Jensen’s family members closed out the hearing with testimony about the impact his murder had on them. They all encouraged the Commission to deny Mr. Creech’s clemency request.

The Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Jill Longhurst centered her case on Mr. Creech’s criminal record. Ms. Longhurst labelled Mr. Creech as a “sociopath” with “an utter disregard for human life” while walking the Commission through his confessions to law enforcement. Ms. Longhurst argued that in 1981, Mr. Creech killed a medically fragile prisoner named David Jensen so he could be placed in isolation. At trial, Mr. Creech claimed self-defense. “Thomas Creech hasn’t changed from the charming, likeable, sociopath he’s always been,” Ms. Longhurst stated in closing. 

A majority vote from the Commission is needed for Mr. Creech to receive a recommendation in favor of clemency. Just six members of the Commission attended Mr. Creech’s hearing, with one member absent because of a possible conflict of interest. The Commission has only held two other hearings of this kind. In 1996, Governor Phil Batt granted clemency to Donald Paradis based on innocence claims after the Commission voted 3-2 to grant a life sentence. More recently, in 2021, the Commission voted 4-3 to grant death row prisoner Gerald Pizzuto a life sentence, but Governor Brad Little rejected the recommendation. Mr. Pizzuto remains on Idaho’s death row despite terminal cancer.