The prosecutor who sent Thomas Creech, Idaho’s longest-serving death-row prisoner, to jail 37 years ago now says that Creech and others sentenced to death in the Gem State should not be executed.

Jim Harris (pictured), former County Prosecutor for Ada County, sought the death penalty against Creech in 1982. Creech, who was first sentenced to death in another case in 1976, has spent more time in prison than any other person on the state’s death row, but in the years since Harris obtained a death sentence for Creech for a prison murder, the former prosecutor has become convinced that Creech should not be executed.

“When I asked for the death penalty against Tom Creech I definitely did believe he should suffer the death penalty,” Harris told WIVI-TV in Boise. “I don’t believe quite frankly that Tom Creech, at least based on the murder that he committed in the penitentiary, should be executed. And I don’t say that easily.” Harris told WIVI that he now believes Creech’s death sentence is disproportionately severe compared to the lesser sentences other prisoners received for murders that are worse than Creech’s prison killing.

Harris also commented on the wastefulness of Idaho’s death penalty. “It’s a waste of time. It’s a terrible waste of money that is expended in these death penalty cases and they are never going to happen. So, the judges ought to simply bear up and sentence these people for fixed life and leave it at that,” he said. Idaho hasn’t carried out an execution in seven years, and no execution dates are set for Creech or the other seven people on death row. Only one person has been sentenced to death in Idaho since 2011.

A 2014 study of the Financial Costs of the Death Penalty by the Idaho legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations found that Idaho capital cases are more costly and take much more time to resolve than non-capital cases. Because courts, salaried government lawyers, and other stakeholders did not separately track the time spent on capital cases, the study could not calculate the price differential between capital and non-capital cases. However, the study found that capital cases with trials took an average of 20.5 months to reach a conclusion, as compared to the 13.5-month average for non-capital cases that went to trial. It also found that the State Appellate Public Defenders office spent approximately 44 times more time on death penalty direct and post-conviction appeals than on appeals from a life sentence.

In 2011, commissioners from two Idaho counties voiced concerns about the high cost borne by counties seeking death sentences, saying that the costs were burdensome for small counties.


McKenna King and Doug Lock-Smith, How much does it cost to exe­cute an inmate in Idaho? And who is keep­ing track of the tab?, KIVI TV, November 32019.