Courts have rules, and laws -- thick books of them, bound in leather on
shelves. But in the end, it's about justice. And if it's not, then what's the point?
It is not just -- it is not right -- to execute a man for murder when there
evidence of his innocence. Brushing that evidence aside because procedural
deadlines weren't met is a miscarriage of the gravest sort.
Yet the Florida Supreme Court is ready to let a death sentence stand, merely
appeals weren't filed in time.
Roy Clifton Swafford says he's innocent of kidnapping 27-year-old Brenda
the Ormond Beach gas station where she worked. Rucker was raped and shot nine
times. Her body was found on the side of a dirt road.
It took investigators more than a year to tie the crime to Swafford, who
returned to his
home in Nashville after attending a race the same day Rucker's body was found.
But there's doubt about the circumstantial evidence linking Swafford and
And there is evidence -- credible evidence -- to believe that another man committed the
murder. Attorneys are now arguing that investigators either withheld that evidence from
defense attorneys, or the lawyers didn't do a good job of investigating.
That would not be surprising. By the time appeals began, the records were
and confused -- and the office charged with defending death-row inmates was in such
disarray -- that Swafford actually came within hours of execution before a stay was
The attorney who handled Swafford's case during the early stages of appeal
that he didn't have time to read through the boxes of documents attached to the case. It
was common practice, he said, to simply ship the documents over to the Supreme
Court along with an affidavit saying they might support his case. In the frantic,
round-the-clock race to save dozens of condemned men, error was inevitable.
It was during this time that time ran out on Swafford's chances of convincing
a court to
hear his claims of innocence. Subsequent hearings have tiptoed around that issue as
if it didn't matter.
And it may not matter -- at least, not in time to save Swafford's life.
Supreme Court justices don't seem to think so. Yet the howl of outrage at this wilful
blindness resonates through the dissent of Justices Peggy Quince, Barbara Pariente
and Harry Lee Anstead.
"There has been absolutely no focus here on the reality of what actually
They are right, and the court's willingness to overlook the compelling
Swafford's innocence is wrong. Putting an expiration date on justice is more than a
mistake -- and allowing an potentially innocent man to die would be a black stain on
the court's honor.