Death sentences rare in Idaho

Death sentences rare in Idaho

As Kootenai County begins its first possible death penalty case in more than a decade, a look at Idaho's death row shows few offenders in the Gem State ever face the ultimate punishment for their crimes.

Right now, eight people await the death penalty in Idaho; seven men wait at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution near Boise, one woman is in the Women's Correctional Center in Pocatello. None of the condemned committed their crimes in North Idaho.

Offenders on death row lead a sheltered existence. They're confined to their 12x7 foot cells 23 hours a day, with one hour each day to spend in an outdoor recreation yard. When escorted anywhere, their hands remained shackled.

Counties in Idaho cite rising cost and lengthy appeals as reasons for not seeking the death penalty more often. Death penalty cases are more complicated and include automatic appeals. It often takes decades for the sentence to be carried out.

One man on death row in Idaho has been there since 1983.

Idaho has executed only three people since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-1970s. A legislative study done in 2014 shows few county prosecutors seek the death penalty.

According to the study, of the 215 people charged with first degree murder over a 16-year period, the death penalty was sought in just 55 of them. Of those, only seven were sentenced to death. More than half of the people sentenced to death since 1977 have had their death sentenced overturned and were given lesser sentences.

The last time the death penalty was on the table in Kootenai County was for child serial killer Joseph Duncan. He faced murder and kidnapping charges for killing a family in 2005 and abducting their two youngest children. Duncan took a plea deal in Kootenai County and was sentenced to death in federal court instead. 

He is still on death row with no execution date set.