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At end, he had nothing to say

Arthur Dennis Rutherford is executed for the 1985 murder of a widow .

By CHRIS TISCH
Published October 19, 2006


STARKE - Strapped to a gurney in Florida's death chamber, Arthur Dennis Rutherford rotated his balding head toward the witnesses and told them he had nothing to say.

He then returned his gaze to the fluorescent lights in the ceiling.

Thirteen minutes later, he was dead.

At a little past 6 p.m. Wednesday, Rutherford became the 62nd person executed in Florida since the death penalty returned to the state 27 years ago. Rutherford, 57, was condemned for the 1985 murder of a North Florida woman.

The execution came after the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal appeals court and the Florida Supreme Court rejected appeals.

Rutherford's lawyers had gone into overdrive Tuesday after learning that the state Department of Corrections had issued an expanded list of execution procedures in August without telling them.

They believed they should have been allowed to review and perhaps challenge those procedures in court. Corrections Department officials said the list committed to paper the protocols used since lethal injection replaced the electric chair in 2000.

The next inmate scheduled for execution is Danny Rolling on Wednesday. Rolling murdered five students in Gainesville in 1990, terrorizing the city for months. The Florida Supreme Court denied an appeal by Rolling on Wednesday.

Rutherford was a handyman in Santa Rosa County in the Panhandle in the 1980s. One of his clients was Stella Salamon, 63, a widow from Australia who lived in Milton.

Rutherford hatched a plan to kill Salamon and steal her money. He surprised her at home as she made lunch. He beat her, fracturing her skull, then drowned her in her bathtub.

Friends became worried when she didn't answer her door. They found her eyeglasses on the kitchen floor and her body in the tub.

Police lifted Rutherford's fingerprints and a palm print in the bathroom. They also learned that he had persuaded two women to help him cash one of Salamon's checks. A jury convicted Rutherford and recommended that he be put to death by a 7-5 vote. A judge sentenced Rutherford to die.

Rutherford's lawyers found two people who signed affidavits attesting that one of the women who testified against Rutherford had admitted to the murder. But courts didn't find those affidavits credible.

On Wednesday morning, Rutherford, a father of five, visited with his family and spent time with his spiritual adviser, a Catholic volunteer. He had a last meal: green tomatoes, eggplant, freshwater catfish and hush puppies.

"This afternoon his mood was calm and conversant," Corrections Department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.

At 6 p.m., the curtain covering the windows between the witness room and the death chamber was opened. Rutherford lay on a gurney under a white sheet.

A three-chemical cocktail was injected into his right arm: a painkiller, a drug that causes paralysis and one that causes a fatal heart attack. Twenty-four witnesses looked on.

At 6:12 p.m., a person dressed in purple scrubs, whose face was covered with a blue shroud, entered the chamber, shined a light in Rutherford's eyes and put a stethoscope on his chest. A minute later, another person in the same kind of outfit did the same thing, then nodded. Rutherford was dead.

The curtain closed.

[Last modified October 19, 2006, 01:30:02]


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