Inmate's daughter files for clemency
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 11:16 p.m.
A daughter of a death row inmate scheduled for execution next week asked Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet, in papers she hand delivered Wednesday, to commute the decorated Vietnam veteran's sentence to life in prison.
Arthur D. Rutherford's lawyer, Linda McDermott, said she also would ask for a stay of execution for him based on one that the U.S. Supreme Court granted another condemned Florida prisoner, Clarence Hill, just minutes before he was scheduled to die Tuesday.
A Marine Corps veteran, Rutherford, 56, was convicted of murdering and robbing Stella Salmon at her Santa Rosa County home Aug. 22, 1985. Rutherford had done some repair work for the woman, who died of drowning or asphyxiation. Her body was found in a bathtub.
The petition to the Board of Executive Clemency, made up of Bush and the three Cabinet members, claims new evidence casts doubt on his guilt. It also cites post-traumatic stress disorder Rutherford has suffered as a result of his Vietnam service, destroyed evidence and the narrow 7-5 jury recommendation for a death sentence.
"This is the same man that fought for his country in Vietnam," said daughter Regina Rutherford Grayson of Milton. "Now his country is going to take his life. He came back from there with lots of problems. He drank a lot to kill is pain."
Rutherford had a prior clemency request that was denied, but McDermott said it did not include the new evidence claim and other issues raised in Wednesday's filing.
Bush spokesman Russell Schweiss said the governor's clemency lawyer has not yet reviewed the petition but that such cases normally must be filed by convicts themselves or their lawyers, not relatives.
He said the issues appear more appropriate for a court appeal.
Grayson, McDermott and other supporters gathered for a news conference at Florida's Vietnam Memorial across the street from the Capitol.
"I think in some cases the death penalty is warranted, but not in this one" said retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Eldon Davies of Middleburg.
Davies also is a retired prison guard on death row, where he met Rutherford. He said they developed a bond because both had served in Vietnam.
The U.S. Supreme Court, also Wednesday, agreed to consider an appeal by Hill, convicted of killing a Pensacola police officer. Hill's lawyer contends the lethal injection procedure used by Florida and many other states can be so painful that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
"We will certainly be asking to join that petition," McDermott said. "We will be asking for a stay."
The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled Thursday to hear oral argument in an appeal by Rutherford on grounds that include the lethal injection argument, which the state justices rejected in Hill's case, and the new evidence issue.
McDermott contends that a key prosecution witness has changed her story and implicated herself as the killer. A trial judge, however, refused to order an evidentiary hearing on that claim.
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