Sunday, October 15, 2006

Killer's execution is set for Wednesday

Originally published October 15, 2006

Killer's execution is set for Wednesday

By Paul Flemming

Arthur Rutherford is scheduled to be executed Wednesday, fulfillment of his death sentence for the 1985 first-degree murder of Stella Salamon in her Milton home.

The execution also would mark the end of death-penalty opponents' hopes that his case might serve as part of a successful legal challenge to Florida's lethal-injection procedure.

Gov. Jeb Bush, prosecutors, victims' advocates and a close friend of Salamon's say it is past time to carry out the punishment for a crime that is more than two decades old.
Though the U.S. Supreme Court in January granted a stay to Rutherford - a week after the court had done the same thing for condemned killer Clarence Hill - the courtroom battle has not stopped Florida executions. The federal appeals court in both Hill and Rutherford's cases rejected the petitions sent back down to them by the highest court.

Hill was executed last month. Now Rutherford - and a week later Danny Rolling, sentenced to death for the murders of five University of Florida students - are scheduled to continue Florida's execution count, which is the fifth highest in the nation.

Rutherford's family, too, acknowledges the diminished chances of another stay. Regina Grayson, one of Rutherford's daughters, visited with him last week on Tuesday and Friday along with one of her sisters and her brother.

''There's hope until he's not here anymore. I don't understand how my daddy's death is going to benefit anyone,'' said Grayson, of Milton. ''It's difficult. We had hope (in January). Now that Hill's been killed, it's not looking so good.''

Last week, Florida's Catholic bishops called for Bush to grant both Rutherford and Rolling clemency. But Bush says it is his official responsibility to fulfill the death sentences handed down by Florida juries.

''I appreciate (the bishops') position,'' Bush said last week. ''I know that they're sincere about their opposition to the death penalty. First of all, I have a duty. It doesn't matter what my personal views are or what their views are. It's the law of the land. I've reconciled my own core beliefs with the implementation of the death penalty.''

Rutherford and Rolling would be the 62nd and 63rd Florida prisoners executed since the death penalty was reinstated, and the 19th and 20th prisoners executed on death warrants signed by Bush.

They both are set to die by lethal injection - as have the last 17 inmates executed in Florida - using the same method established by the state in 2000.

That method, similar to the one used by 37 of the 38 states that have the death penalty, has been successfully challenged in other federal court jurisdictions and led to moratoriums on executions in California and Missouri. It hasn't happened in Florida.

''The court does seem to be saying that Florida's lethal-injection statute has been reviewed and is acceptable,'' said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.

Linda McDermott, one of Rutherford's attorneys, said she would file an appeal Monday in federal court, continuing arguments for a stay rejected on Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month rejected his claims that the state's lethal injection procedure could be unconstitutionally cruel punishment.

Dieter said the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 rejection of another stay of Hill's execution in September means that margin could shift if one justice decides that a different case represents a chance for the highest court to settle the lethal-injection issue.

''These cases come around, they come around, get denied and get denied - sometime it's going to be enough to get just one justice to say it's now time to take this case'' and resolve lethal-injection questions, Dieter said.

Death-penalty proponents and those close to Salamon say Rutherford's should not be that case.
Beverly Elkins says Rutherford, 57, should pay for his crime. Elkins found her then-63-year-old friend and neighbor Salamon back in 1985, beaten, strangled and drowned in the bathtub of her own home. Rutherford's two trials and ongoing legal challenges, along with his delayed execution in January, have frustrated Elkins.

''It just brings back all the bad memories every time it comes up,'' Elkins said. ''It would just be nice to get it over with and have some sort of closure. It's like going through it all over again.''

Advocacy groups that favor the death penalty also want to stop the drawn-out litigation. Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said that Hill and Rutherford's cases have thus far worked to reduce future litigation delays, the opposite of what death-penalty opponents hoped for in January when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Hill's case.

''The 11th Circuit precedents in Hill and Rutherford are quite useful for prosecutors elsewhere,'' Scheidegger said. ''If another inmate in another part of the country brings an 11th-hour claim against a (lethal-injection) protocol, those decisions can be used to deny them.''

Still, Scheidegger said a definitive case taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court to set a single legal standard for lethal-injection procedures would shorten Death Row appeals.
''I think it needs to be resolved. We shouldn't be having this additional round of litigation in cases that have already gone on too long,'' he said.

Rutherford's attorney said the different conclusions by different federal jurisdictions is part of the arbitrariness that she argues makes the death penalty unconstitutional.

''It's kind of just showing how it depends on what judge you've got. It depends on what day it is,'' McDermott said. ''At every turn you see this arbitrariness. You don't see consistency. Other (defendants) seem to be given a pretty good opportunity to investigate and litigate their claims.''
Grayson and her siblings will be back at the Florida State Prison on Tuesday for a six-hour visit with their father and again on Wednesday for an hour-long visit where they'll be able to touch.
''I just wish the people that are so ready to kill somebody, I wish they would stop and think,'' Grayson said. ''It's punishment enough for my dad to be in prison.''


Aug. 22, 1985 -- Stella Salamon, a 63-year-old widow, is murdered in her Milton home. She was beaten, strangled, and drowned in her bathtub.

Jan. 31, 1986 -- A Santa Rosa County jury finds Rutherford guilty of first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon.

Feb. 1, 1986 -- Rutherford is sentenced to death on an 8-4 jury recommendation.
April 2, 1986 -- A mistrial is declared.

Oct. 2, 1986 -- A Walton County jury finds Rutherford guilty on all charges.

Dec. 9, 1986 -- Rutherford is sentenced to death on a 7-5 jury recommendation.

Nov. 29, 2005 -- Gov. Jeb Bush signs Rutherford's death warrant.

Jan. 31, 2006 -- Rutherford's execution is stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court minutes before his scheduled death.

Sept. 22 -- Bush renews Rutherford's death warrant.

Sept. 26 -- Rutherford files appeal with Santa Rosa County Circuit Court.

Oct. 5 -- Appeal returned by the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Oct. 6 -- State Circuit Court rejected Rutherford's appeals, now before the Florida Supreme Court.

Oct. 18 -- Rutherford's scheduled execution.

Death row statistics

There are 378 inmates on Florida's death row.

Florida administers execution by electric chair or lethal injection. Lethal injection became an option for death row inmates in 2000.

The first inmate to die by lethal injection was Terry Sims on Feb. 23, 2000.

The executioner is an anonymous private citizen who is paid $150 cash per execution.
A death row cell is 6 x 9 x 9.5 feet high.

One death row inmate, Glen Ocha, was executed in 2005.

12.83 years is the average length of stay for current death row population.
44.4 years is the average age of inmates on death row.

On March 30, 1998, Judias "Judy" Buenoano became the first woman to die in Florida's electric chair.

11.92 years is the average length of stay on Death Row prior to execution.

30.78 years is the average age at the time of offense.

43.91 years is the average age at time of execution.

Two oldest death row inmates:

John Vining, born March 13, 1931, sentenced from Orange County in 1990.

William Cruse Jr., born Nov. 21, 1927, sentenced from Brevard County in 1989.

Two youngest male death row inmates: Randy Schoenwetter, born Oct. 27, 1981 and sentenced from Brevard County in 2004.

Thomas E. Bevel, born June 20, 1981 and sentenced from Duval County in 2005.

Oldest inmate executed: Charlie Grifford, 72, executed on Feb. 21, 1951.

Youngest inmates executed (both 16 years old): Willie Clay, sentenced from Duval County, executed Dec. 29, 1941 and James Davis, sentenced from Alachua County, executed Oct. 9, 1944.

John Spenkelink was the first inmate to be executed in Florida after reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. He was executed on May 25, 1979.

Inmate on death row the longest: Gary E. Alvord, received on death row April 11, 1974; date of offense was June 17, 1973. Alvord was sentenced from Hillsborough County.
Source: Florida Department of Corrections

The break-down

Death-row inmates by race and gender:

White Males: 233
Black Males: 133
Other Males: 12
Total: 378

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