updated 1/31/2006 7:37:30 PM ET 2006-02-01T00:37:30

The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the execution of a man who drowned a woman in her bathtub a decade ago, granting a stay to a Florida death row inmate for the second time in a week.

The court, acting without its newest member, ordered Florida to stop the evening execution of Arthur Rutherford, who claims that the state’s lethal injection procedure is cruel and unusual punishment.

The court’s action came just as Florida was preparing to execute Rutherford and only a few hours after justices gathered privately for the swearing in of new Justice Samuel Alito. Alito did not consider Rutherford’s case.

Florida inmate Clarence Hill won a Supreme Court stay last week, after he had already been strapped to the gurney. Justices said they would use Hill’s case to clarify how inmates may bring last-minute challenges to the way they will be put to death. Arguments are expected this spring.

The intervention in Rutherford’s case was not a surprise because he also brought a late challenge to lethal injection.

An appeals court said he could not pursue the claim.

The stay Tuesday will remain in place until justices deal with the issues raised by Hill and Rutherford.

Rutherford, 56, was convicted of robbing and killing Stella Salamon, a 63-year-old widow originally from Australia, in 1985 at her Milton, Fla., home, where the handyman had installed some sliding glass doors.

The woman was severely beaten and drowned or asphyxiated. Her body was found in a bathtub. Four witnesses testified that Rutherford either told them that he was planning to kill her or admitted it afterward.

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