Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Killer of Australian widow executed

By Michael Peltier in Florida

PRISON officials have executed a 57-year-old former handyman by lethal injection for the 1985 murder of an Australian-born woman in Florida's rural Panhandle.

Prison officials at Florida State Prison near Starke pronounced Arthur Rutherford dead at 6.13pm EDT after giving him a deadly cocktail of chemicals that paralysed his lungs and stopped his heart.

Rutherford became the 62nd prisoner executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. He is the 19th inmate to be executed during the tenure of Governor Jeb Bush, the younger brother of US President George W. Bush.

Rutherford was convicted in August 1986 for the death of Australian-born Stella Salamon, 63, for whom he did odd jobs.

She was found drowned in her bath after being badly beaten and strangled. The jury, on a 7-5 vote, recommended he be put to death.

Rutherford had been due to die in January and had been strapped to a gurney in the death chamber at Florida State Prison, but he was spared by a last-minute stay from the United States Supreme Court.

The stay was prompted by a legal challenge claiming the anesthesia administered during legal injection might not be adequate to prevent an inmate from experiencing extreme pain.

The high court sent the case back for further review and in September the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the anesthesia challenge without taking more evidence.

Executions using lethal injection have been postponed in at least five states pending further review of execution procedures, and Rutherford's execution came despite a flurry of appeals before the Florida and US Supreme courts.

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