Justice expiring: Will Florida kill another innocent man?

                    Courts have rules, and laws -- thick books of them, bound in leather on endless
                  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 is compelling
                  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 because
                  appeals weren't filed in time.

                  Roy Clifton Swafford says he's innocent of kidnapping 27-year-old Brenda Rucker from
                  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 the crime.
                  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 so chaotic
                  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
                  signed.

                  The attorney who handled Swafford's case during the early stages of appeal testified
                  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. Four Florida
                  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 happened,"
                  Anstead wrote.

                  They are right, and the court's willingness to overlook the compelling evidence of
                  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.


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