BOISE, Idaho (AP) — For nearly 50 years, Idaho prison staff have been serving Thomas Eugene Creech three meals a day, checking on him during rounds and taking him to his medical appointments.

This Wednesday, some Idaho prison staff will be asked to kill him. Barring a last-minute stay, the 73-year-old, one of the nation’s longest-serving death row inmates, will be executed by lethal injection for killing a fellow inmate with a sock full of batteries in 1981.

Creech’s murder of David Jensen, a disabled young man serving time for auto theft, was the latest in a wide path of destruction that saw Creech convicted of five murders in three states. He is also suspected of at least half a dozen others.

But now, decades later, Creech is known primarily within the walls of Idaho Maximum Security Institution simply as “Tom,” a generally well-behaved old man with a penchant for poetry. His unsuccessful attempt at clemency even found support from a former penitentiary warden, from prison staff who recounted how he wrote poems of support or condolences to them, and from the judge who sentenced Creech to death.

“Some of our correctional officers have grown up with Tom Creech,” Idaho Department of Corrections Director Josh Tewalt said Friday. “Our director has a long-standing relationship with him. … There is a familiarity and a relationship that has been built over time.”

Creech’s attorneys have filed a series of last-minute appeals in four different courts in recent months trying to stop the execution, which would be the first in Idaho in 12 years. They have argued that Idaho’s refusal to say where the execution drug was obtained violates their rights and that it received ineffective legal counsel.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected an argument that Creech should not be executed because he was sentenced by a judge and not a jury.

It is unclear how many people Creech, an Ohio native, killed before he was imprisoned in Idaho in 1974. At one point he claimed to have killed about 50 people, but many of the confessions were made under the influence of now-discredited people. “truth serum” and filled with outlandish stories about occult-fueled human sacrifice and contract murders by a powerful motorcycle gang.

Official estimates vary, but authorities tend to focus on 11 deaths. Creech’s attorneys did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.

In 1973, Creech was tried for the murder of Paul Schrader, 70, a retiree who was stabbed to death in the Tucson, Arizona, motel where Creech lived. Creech used Schrader’s credit cards and vehicle to leave Tucson for Portland, Oregon. A jury acquitted him, but authorities say they have no doubt he was responsible.

The following year, Creech was admitted to the Oregon State Hospital for a few months. He obtained a weekend pass and traveled to Sacramento, California, where he killed Vivian Grant Robinson in her home. Creech then used Robinson’s phone to inform the hospital that she would be returning a day late. That crime was not solved until Creech later confessed while he was in custody in Idaho; He was not convicted until 1980.

After being discharged from Oregon State Hospital, Creech took a job at a church in Portland doing maintenance work. He lived in the church, and it was there that he shot and killed William Joseph Dean, 22, in 1974. Authorities believe he then shot and killed Sandra Jane Ramsamooj at the Salem grocery store where she worked. .

Creech was finally arrested in November 1974. He and a girlfriend were hitchhiking in Idaho when they were picked up by two painters, Thomas Arnold and John Bradford. Creech shot both men to death and the girlfriend cooperated with authorities.

While in custody, Creech confessed to committing other murders. Some appeared to be made up, but he provided information that led police to the bodies of Gordon Lee Stanton and Charles Thomas Miller near Las Vegas, and 22-year-old Rick Stewart McKenzie near Baggs, Wyoming.

Creech was initially sentenced to death for killing the painters. But after the U.S. Supreme Court banned automatic death sentences in 1976, his sentence was converted to life in prison.

That changed after he killed Jensen, who was serving time for car theft. Jensen’s life had not been easy: he suffered a near-fatal gunshot wound as a teenager that left him with severe disabilities, including partial paralysis.

Jensen’s relatives opposed Creech’s request for clemency. They described Jensen as a gentle soul and a prankster who loved to hunt and spend time outdoors, who was “the peanut butter” to his sister’s jelly. His daughter, who was 4 when he was killed, talked about how she never got to know him and how unfair it was that Creech was still around when her father wasn’t.

Meanwhile, Creech’s supporters say the decades he spent in a prison cell have left him changed. A prison employee sentenced to death told the parole board last month that, while she cannot begin to understand the suffering Creech inflicted on others, she is now a person who makes positive contributions to the community. her. His execution date will be difficult for everyone at the prison, she said, especially those who have known him for years.

“I don’t want to disparage what he did or the countless people who were affected by it in a really significant way,” said Tewalt, the corrections director. “At the same time, the situation cannot be dismissed either.” effect it will have on the people who have established a relationship with it. On Thursday, Tom won’t be there. You know he’s not coming back to that unit, that’s real. It would be really hard not to feel some kind of emotion. about it.”

By Sam