Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Inmate requests stay from Fla. Supreme Court

TALLAHASSEE -- Arthur Rutherford's attorneys claim the state of Florida in August changed its procedures for lethal injection and lied about it since then.

Rutherford, whose execution is set for Wednesday, asks the Florida Supreme Court to stay his execution in filings made this afternoon.Attorneys for the state were required to reply to the filings this afternoon.

In the state's response, they deny that Florida's lethal-injection protocols have changed.A memorandum included in the filing says it describes lethal injection procedures "effective for executions after August 16, 2006."

Martin McClain, one of Rutherford's attorneys, was angry this afternoon and shouted responses to questions about his appeal and the state's response.

"This is scary stuff. This is stuff that's going on at the national level -- turn everything into a state secret, and then say just trust us you don't need to know," McClain said. "It's really outrageous."

The state's response in court says nothing has changed in the way inmates are executed.

"There is nothing in the August 16, 2006, procedures which alters in any way the drugs used or how the drugs will be administered to a defendant," the state's filing said. "Nor, contrary to Rutherford's bold assertion, has anything DOC said in the legal pleadings filed in this case been false or a repeated misrepresentation."

McClain said learning of the August memo the day before his client's execution was unacceptable.

"They have known since August 16th. We find out less than 36 hours before our client is executed," McClain said. "There's no time, they've deprived us of the opportunity to look at this. It's clearly a part of their strategy."

Last week, Rutherford's attorneys had made a public records request of the Department of Corrections and been denied.

The attorney representing the state did not immediately return phone calls. The state's response denied that anything had changed and said Rutherford was prohibited from making the appeal because he'd asked too late for the stay.

McClain was incensed by what he described as the state's actions.

"It's the most outrageous thing I can possibly imagine. If I, as a defense attorney, did something like this, they'd have my bar card," McClain said.

Florida's lethal injection methods have been the subject of much litigation, as have other states' protocols where courts have halted death sentences to review the procedures. In Florida, state and federal courts have approved the method used here, first approved in January 2000. That initial court review of lethal injection, and the details it revealed, have been the standard for subsequent legal challenges.

But filings made by the state provide greater detail than what has been public previously. Florida uses a three-drug combination to execute prisoners, including sodium pentothal, which is administered first. In previous court filings, the amount administered has been described as "no less than" 2 grams.

In the memo filed by the state Tuesday, the Aug. 16 procedure describes two syringes to be used during lethal injections that contain 2.5 grams of sodium pentothal each, for a total 5 grams of the anesthesia.

Rutherford, 57, is sentenced to death for the 1985 murder of Stella Salamon of Milton.

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