- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

JARRATT, Va. (AP) — Gov. Mark Warner postponed the execution of a convicted murderer yesterday to give the man’s attorneys time to file a petition for a new sentencing hearing with the Virginia Supreme Court.

Mr. Warner stepped in less than four hours before Bobby Wayne Swisher’s scheduled execution by injection at 9 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt.

Earlier yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Swisher’s appeal for a stay. Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg supported giving Swisher a stay.

Mr. Warner postponed Swisher’s execution for three weeks to allow the state Supreme Court to issue a stay or rule on a petition for a new hearing. Mr. Warner said that if no action takes place by July 22, he would not intervene again.

Attorneys for Swisher said he was entitled to a new sentencing because the jury that recommended a death sentence in 1998 for the slaying of Dawn McNees Snyder relied on a form that the Virginia Supreme Court later found defective.

The form did not tell jurors that the alternative to execution was life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2001, the court ruled that juries must have that information.

Defense lawyers and capital-punishment opponents say as many as 20 men have been sentenced to death by juries that used the form. They contend that more than a dozen killers executed since 1981 unsuccessfully challenged it.

One of Swisher’s attorneys, Steven Rosenfield, has said that if Mr. Warner granted his client clemency, the governor may have to do the same for other death-row inmates whose juries used the form.

The deans of two Virginia law schools and 19 legislators had urged Mr. Warner to grant Swisher’s request.

But Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore has said it will take more than a conditional pardon from Mr. Warner to get Swisher a new sentencing. Spokesman Tim Murtaugh argued that a court is the only body that can wipe out a conviction and order a new trial.

The jury deliberated for about 85 minutes before finding Swisher guilty of the Feb. 5, 1997, rape, sodomy and murder of Miss Snyder, 22. She was an emergency medical technician and florist who had just opened her own shop, called Enchanted Florist, in Stuarts Draft. She had a daughter, who is now 9.

Swisher, a high school dropout and former construction worker, confided to friends that he had killed Miss Snyder. He later confessed to police and was linked by DNA. Miss Snyder’s decomposed body was found 16 days after the slaying in a riverside field near where she had managed to pull herself after her throat was cut.

For Miss Snyder’s mother, Sandi McNees, the legal arguments swirling around what could be Swisher’s last days are secondary. She said he received a fair trial and that she plans on attending the execution.

“I vowed that I would see this thing through to the end, and this is the end of that part of Dawn’s life,” Miss McNees told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “And I feel that after the execution, Dawn the victim, that part of her life will have ceased and I will have gained Dawn the daughter back.”

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