Leavitt Execution

Media witnesses to the Tuesday morning execution of Richard Leavitt, from left, John Funk, of the Idaho Press-Tribune, Scott Logan, of KBOI-TV, talk about their experience at a post-execution news briefing following the execution at the Idaho Department of Corrections. Tuesday, June 12, 2012 (Greg Kreller/IPT)

    KUNA — The witnesses heard only silence when Richard Albert Leavitt entered the execution chamber on a gurney, accompanied by five corrections officers in surgical masks and black baseball caps. A few stood at attention while the others secured Leavitt to the table he would die on. He spoke to the officers as they worked, the words inaudible behind the soundproof glass, and they nodded in reply.

    Leavitt was convicted in 1985 for stabbing and mutilating 31-year-old Danette Elg of Blackfoot in 1984.

    A faint antiseptic, medical scent permeated the room. Leavitt’s fingers and feet fidgeted as though he was nervous, but his face appeared relaxed.

    Warden Randy Blades and Idaho Department of Corrections Director Brent Reinke stood stony-faced in the chamber, dressed in black suits, supervising without words. The execution team had rehearsed twice over the weekend. They didn’t need step-by-step instructions     The silence continued as all but one of the officers left the room with military precision, and a medical team entered the chamber from the opposite side. All three wore royal blue scrubs, full head coverings, surgical masks and safety glasses. Two wore black medical caps, one wore blue. It took several minutes to attach the blood pressure monitor, EKG sensors and IV tubes — all strung through two small holes in the wall opposite the observation room — and then they too turned on their heels and left the room with military poise.

    Only then did the silence finally break.

    Blades asked Leavitt if he’d like to make a final statement, but Leavitt merely shook his head. When Blades asked if he’d like his face covered, Leavitt simply said “no.”

    That was the only time the witnesses heard him speak.

    Blades read the death warrant aloud, and Reinke called Attorney Attorney General Lawrence Wasden from the chamber telephone to confirm there was no legal reason to stop the procedure. Wasden wasn’t far away — he entered the observation room and joined the witnesses immediately after Reinke hung up.

    “Commence the execution, and administer the chemical,” Blades said. Leavitt visibly swallowed and adjusted his head on the table. Over the next several seconds, his breathing became increasingly shallow, then stopped altogether.

    Then, silence.

    For 20 minutes, witnesses, officers and staff waited as Leavitt’s motionless face and hands turned gradually but noticeably gray. Finally, Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenburg entered the chamber. He placed a stethoscope on Leavitt’s abdomen, then examined his face with a flashlight.

    “Warden, I pronounce him at 10:25,” Sonnenburg said.

    Seconds later, corrections officers escorted the witnesses to the facility’s administration building.

    It was the second execution in less than a year witnessed by Post-Register reporter Ruth Brown, and the first she saw from beginning to end. It was a different experience, she said, and an important one. When she watched the execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades last November, the condemned man was already secured to the table when she entered, the IVs already inserted.

    “I think it’s beneficial to see the medical staff come in and hook him up to IVs,” Brown said after the media debriefing. “People ask me a lot what it’s like to see an execution, because human beings in general are curious, and I use the word ‘clinical’ a lot. It’s not dramatic.”

    For KBOI-TV2’s reporter Scott Logan, it was a first. He’s seen violence, he said, when working as a reporter in South America. But never before had he seen death so carefully-planned and orchestrated. The emotional charge was palpable, he said, but the staff’s professionalism throughout left him impressed. Leavitt’s quiet passing, he added, was perhaps a stark contrast to the violent, likely noisy death of Leavitt’s victim Danette Elg.

    “I was struck by the military precision with which the escort team brought him into this chamber,” Logan said. “And with the way it was carried out. I didn’t see anything to suggest any problems.”