Published - February, 1, 2006
Killer's life is spared
Condemned await high court's ruling
STARKE -- Arthur D. Rutherford was strapped in and hooked up to be
executed Tuesday night before the U.S. Supreme Court spared his life.
For the second time in a week, a Florida execution was stayed by the
high court. A week before, Clarence Hill was granted a stay as the
court questions the legal procedure under which his lawyers challenged
the constitutionality of the state's method of lethal injection.
"The Supreme Court has issued a stay until after inmate Hill's case,"
Warden Mike Rathmann said at 6:15 p.m. to the assembled 20 witnesses.
The announcement came 15 minutes after Rutherford was scheduled to die.
Tuesday's stay means Rutherford's execution is put off through at least
April, when the court is scheduled to hear Hill's case. A ruling is
expected before the court's session ends in July.
Rutherford, 56, is the convicted murderer of Stella Salamon, 63 at the
time she was beaten and drowned in her Milton home in 1985.
Rutherford, a Marine Vietnam veteran, has maintained his innocence
through two trials and two decades of appeals. Four witnesses at his
trial testified that Rutherford said he intended to kill an "old lady"
and make her write him a check.
He also was convicted of stealing a check from Salamon and forging it for $2,000.
Beverly Elkins, a neighbor and friend who lives out of state, found
Salamon dead in her bathtub. She said earlier this week it was time for
Rutherford's sentence to be carried out after so much time and so many
Salamon, Elkins said, was from Australia and had no immediate family in the country.
Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Snurkowski said the U.S. Supreme
Court denied Rutherford's other appeals, including the ruling of the
Florida Supreme Court that denied his claims of innocence. She will
argue for the state in Hill's case.
Rutherford's family made an impassioned plea for his life as his execution approached. They rejoiced when the stay was granted.
"Thank God he's alive," said Regina Grayson of Milton, Rutherford's
31-year-old daughter. "Any day that my daddy is here is a good day."
Grayson and Rutherford's other children -- two other daughters and a
son -- along with five brothers and three sisters were among those who
visited the condemned man earlier Tuesday morning for two hours.
Rutherford was served what would have been his last meal -- fried catfish, fried green tomatoes and fried eggplant.
His daughters last week appealed directly to Gov. Jeb Bush to commute their father's sentence.
"Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for our sins," Grayson said.
Rutherford "dying is not going to bring anybody back. We're victims,
Appeals to the Florida Supreme Court and lower federal courts had been
denied when his lawyers filed four petitions to the nation's highest
court, one largely matching the appeal that won Hill a stay.
"It's not a victory in some ways," said Linda McDermott, one of
Rutherford's attorneys. "We've been denied on some issues we wish had
been granted" a hearing.
Before the Florida Supreme Court last week, Rutherford's lawyers asked
for a hearing on what they said was new evidence -- a sworn statement
from a man who said a prosecution witness admitted to committing the
That was denied by the state's highest court, which said the evidence
of Rutherford's guilt was overwhelming and that the new evidence was
unreliable, contradictory and unlikely to win an acquittal if presented
to a jury.
McDermott said the stay means the court will not hear arguments
directly in Rutherford's case. She said his legal team will work with
Hill's lawyers to prepare for the hearing.