October 31, 2006

"Countdown To An Execution"

There is something uniquely surreal about sitting in a death row cell watching your television as virtually every local station out of Jacksonville and Gainesville all cover the “Countdown To An Execution” live from outside the prison.

It’s a circus of its own peculiar morbid design but fortunately seldom seen. The parade of pretty people in front of their camera’s telling the story of the soon to be killed killer doesn’t come in droves except when someone of special status is to be executed.

Today it is the infamous Danny Rolling, a pathetic man in his own right who had pled guilty to five murders in the Gainesville area a dozen years ago. That entitled him to being labeled a “serial killer” and those killing not only defined his life but also will now define his meticulously and deliberately inflicted death.

What does that say about us? Have we really come that far from the days when we gathered outside local county courthouses to watch a public hanging in the town square? Or even a midnight lynching at an old oak tree?

Thanks top the media the ritual of execution is now carried to out living rooms. The bleached blonde reporters will walk you through it, all competing with each other to provide a graphic description of the moments leading up to that execution and as the clock ticks down they will hold your attention by telling you to watch the backdoor of the wing housing the death chamber as once the execution has been carried a prison employee will appear at that door and wave a towel, a white towel, signifying that the execution has now been carried out. For long moments the viewer will watch in silent anticipation, waiting for that sign yet another person has been put to death.

Although disgusted by the pathetic circus, I watch too. I had a personal connection as I knew Danny Rolling – I lived in close proximity to him for many years. Perhaps I knew him netter than any of them now congregated at the prison to watch him die. I never knew him as a killer – I knew him as a fellow inmate. I didn’t judge him by acts of momentary violence against innocent victims, but by years of interaction, seeing him as a person with obvious mental issues and personality flaws. In my world we all have issues –I’ve been on death row now for so long that my issues have developed issues of their own.

Did I mention that I’m disgusted by the spectacle the media is making of this? How can we not be disgusted by the organized and intentional celebration of the death of another human being? What does it say about us as a society when we gather around to watch another man being deliberately put to death?

After the circus is over will any of his victims be brought back to life? What exactly is accomplished by putting the man to death? Certainly by now we know that these so called serial killers feed off public attention, so doesn’t all this attention only inspire other pathetic losers to gain their own fame by killing even more? Is it just a coincidence that the increase in the number of “serial killers” corresponds directly with the increase of the public attention we provide them? Take away their spotlight and what motivation will be left? By making a media circus of Danny Rolling’s execution today. How many more innocent people will die at the hands of other serial killers out to gain their fame?

Here’s another thought… when was the last time you saw these swarms of media trucks gather outside a prison to cover the release of an innocent man? Since we cranked up the killing machine in recent years there’s been over 130 men and women exonerated and released from death row after being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death. When was the last time you saw the media gather at the gates of a prison to cover the release of an innocent man? In 23 years I’ve never seen it – not even once.

We accept serial killers are “sick,” but are we not as equally sick by wanting to watch them be methodically put to death? As we celebrate their death aren’t we doing the same thing we’ve condemned them to death for? How many of us have ever shown the same level of interest in advocating the release of an innocent man as we do in advocating the death of a presumably guilty man?

Today “We the people” put Danny Rolling to death and many celebrated by participating in the media circus that covered every detail. But where will these people be tomorrow when yet another innocent man walks out of prison alone and already forgotten? What does that say about us? Every circus has its clowns – today “We the people” became the clowns.

Did you hear of how he actually sang a Christian gospel song as his final statement? It's hard to deal with the freaking circus they make of it -- it's all so one sided as the media competes to come up with the best sound bite to graphically portray the death of a "monster." Even if we were to assume that he was a monster, maybe we should ask what it was or who created that monster? And what is the difference between him stalking his victims and those who make careers out stalking the death of condemned men and women? Are not both ultimately defined by the end result -- they brought about, by deliberate design and intent, the death of another human being.

When "we, the people" killed Danny Rolling it only made monsters out of all of us as we ultimately did the very same things we condemned him to death for. Only we made our victim suffer under the threat of inevitable death for years and being in solitary confinement awaiting the uncertainty of your fate really is a lot like having a gun held to your head.

Just so you don't get too comfortable with that, with each new appeal you build up the hope of a reprieve as if the gun might just be lifted, but instead the courts deny you -- as if they're recocking the gun and pulling the trigger like a game of Russian roulette. When they pull the trigger at the end of that next appeal, will that be the round that kills you? Or will it be the next one?

It's really the prolonged uncertainty that describes why capital punishment is "cruel and unusual" as if that Constitutional concept even has any meaning in our contemporary society.

Condemned by The Perfect Storm

A few years ago there was a movie called “The Perfect Storm” that told of the tragedy of lives lost in the North Atlantic when several powerful storms systems coincidently came together, resulting in many deaths and many more lives changed forever.

How many of us have watched that movie and thought about events in our own lives that were (and are) an anthology of that event? Can circumstances coincidently come together in our own lives that forever, often tragically, change – or even predestine – our own fate? Can we look back upon this confluence of circumstances and see now that we were helplessly swept along in fates current until finally tossed ashore, our own lives victim of a perfect storm?

I’ve given that a lot of thought as I personally struggle with the “why” of me spending the last 23 years in solitary confinement condemned to death and have concluded that I am not on death row for any crime I allegedly committed but rather that I am condemned by the perfect storm, and that even my innocence simply doesn’t matter. See, “Southern Injustice: Condemning An Innocent Man.” rather, the elements that subsequently led to my present fate formed long before any crime allegedly occurred. When those preexisting elements in my life collided with contemporary circumstances these collective elements formed a perfect storm that sealed my fate and led me to death row.

Each year there are many thousands of murders in America. According to my World Almanac, in 1983 (the year my alleged crime took place) there were 19,310 homicides in the United States, but less than 100 men and women sentenced to death. Why did so few end up on death row -- why me? In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional (illegal) because it was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered the states to rewrite their statutes to provide better guidance – but has anything really changed?

Simply question… why me? About the same time my capital crime was allegedly committed in rural Glades County, Florida a rich young man about my age was charged with what was called “the worst mass murder in Collier County history.” This man’s guilt (and stupidity) was never a question… he loaded the family vehicle up with explosives, then lured his entire immediate family into the vehicle and blew them up. The motive was clear – he wanted the entire family fortune for himself. Both cases were prosecuted by the same state attorney’s office at the same time. So, why did I get death, and he got life?

Of the thousand of men and women presently on death row there are an equal number of individual paths that brought the condemned here. But there is also an undeniable common journey, consistent contributing factors that have nothing to do with the alleged crime and as you objectively look beneath the surface an undeniable truth becomes self evident – we do not sentence people to death because of the particular nature of their alleged crime… rather, the fact is that we, as a society, decide who will live and who will die based upon who they are and their (in)ability to defend against the infinite resources of the state.

Let me ask you this… where would O.J. Simpson be today if he stood trial for the exact same crime in a small southern county and didn’t have the money to hire his “dream team” defense lawyers? That’s the undeniable truth – almost without exception. Those on death row are not condemned because of the particular crime they stood trial for, but because they were unable to defend against the resources available to the state… it is the lack of capital that makes you eligible for capital punishment.

Without the ability to defend against a capital murder charge, even your innocence becomes irrelevant. Of the approximately 130 men and women who have been legal exonerated and released from death row in past years, not even one of them came from wealth and privilege – and not even one had a “dream team” defense. Coincidence?

Before I came to prison I was completely ignorant of out legal system. To be honest, I never even gave it any thought. If someone had asked me back then if I supported the death penalty I probably would have immediately thought of Ted Bundy, as back then that’s all the news talked about and I would have said “Hell, yes!!” as that is the image I associated the death penalty with… that is the image prosecutors and politicians want all of us to see when we think about the death penalty.

Is Ted Bundy the archetypical image of the condemned man? Is his case emblematic of the average capital case that leads a man to death row? No, it is not! But the politicians and prosecutors do not want you to know that – they do not want you to think about the true portrait of those condemned to die.

Having become familiar with the reality of the system and its inherent prejudices against those least capable of defending against the formidable resources of the state, I now realize and accept that factors that eventually led me to be condemned to death, the elements of the storm that subsequently collided together with force and fury to create that “perfect storm,” began to form long before any alleged crime ever took place. In truth, the capital crime I allegedly committed was one of the least significant factors in determining my fate.

Like most of the others on death row the elements of my own storm began brewing the day I was born…. By being born, I was condemned to die. How’s that for irony? Bt far, the most significant factor that eventually led to me being condemned to death was simply being born into the family fate blessed me with.

Almost without exception (virtually none that I personally know of) those condemned to death share a common background. This will begin by being born into a dysfunctional family environment then being raised in extremely abusive surroundings. As the child of fate grows, this will predictably evolve into truancy, inevitable substance abuse (alcohol/drugs) at an early age and relatively small scrapes with the law.

Before any capital crime is allegedly committed that person is already a candidate to be condemned to death. Consistently my fellow lumpenproletariats (just call me “Lumpy” for short) share common traits… dysfunctional family, abusive childhood, lack of formal education, and serious psychological issues. The truth is, we were born to die.

Then comes the second storm front… the alleged crime. Often this crime will take place in a relatively rural county in the south. The case will be locally sensationalized so that before any jury is ever seated the redneck community has already formed a legally sanctioned lynch mob screaming for vengeance. A local hero will step up to the plate – the local politically ambitious and pathetically overzealous prosecutor – and will promise the good town folk that justice will be done. At that point even innocence becomes irrelevant, see “Southern Injustice: Condemning An Innocent Man” and such novel concepts of truth and justice are quickly forgotten, See, “Prosecutorial Misconduct: Does Immunity Invite Injustice?

Last, but by no means least, comes the final element, that fatal front that collides with force and fury against the proceeding two elements and that that perfect storm is formed. This is reflected when a lawyer is assigned to represent that person. While the state will have relatively infinite resources to prosecute the case and the power of the “good government” behind them, the soon to be condemned will be assigned a relatively inexperienced lawyer already out gunned and overwhelmed. Any defense is quickly becomes a pretense and a verdict of guilty is assured. Again, just look at the O.J. Simpson case and so many others like it. In America, the crime you stand accused of is a distant second to your ability to generate resources necessary to defend against it.. Those condemned to die are not condemned to death for the crime they allegedly committed but because of their inability to defend against it.

All of these elements came together in my case. I’ve long ago accepted that my innocence is simply irrelevant as I am condemned to death for who I am, not what I allegedly did. I am condemned by the perfect storm.

October 29, 2006

An Open Letter To Journalists

Dear Journalist,

Have you ever dreamed of winning a Pulitzer? Very rarely will the opportunity come along – if you’re lucky, maybe once in a career. Would you recognize that opportunity if it did?

As you may be aware last month the American Bar Association released an in depth report following a comprehensive five year study of Florida’s death penalty system, concluding it is “fundamentally flawed” and calling for a moratorium until adequate reforms can be adopted. Among the substantial deficiencies highlighted in this study is the fact that Florida – by far – leads the country in the number of men and women exonerated and released from death row after being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death. (At least 25 since 1972)

Are you aware that the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida (Southwest Florida; Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry, and Glades Counties) leads the entire country in the number of wrongful capital convictions? Why does a relatively small states attorney’s office account for so many? (Albert Tibbs, James Richardson, Bradley Scott, John Lundry, John Ballard). Although that fact by itself is troubling, I believe that what is even more troubling is that nobody is even asking why? All of those wrongful convictions were the result of deliberate, overzealous prosecutorial misconduct, yet nobody has ever questioned the policy and practice of that states attorney’s office…Why?

I realize that there’s a common perception that everyone on death row is screaming they’re innocent, but with Florida’s record it stands to reason some of them are telling the truth!

I have been on death row since march 1984 after being convicted and condemned to two capital murders in rural Glades County, Florida. The entire case brought against me was wholly circumstantial… there were no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions. Although no defense was presented and I was prohibited from testifying myself, the first ended in a hung jury – but a second trial resulted in my convictions.

I have always adamantly entire “theory” of premeditated murder brought against me was deliberately fabricated by the states sole key witness (my ex girlfriend, Francis Smith) and the local states attorney’s office. A few years ago my long pled (but seldom heard) claim of innocence was finally substantiated when a state witness (Deborah Hanzel) unexpectedly admitted that her trial testimony was false. Under oath she subsequently testified that she was deliberately coerced to provide that false testimony by the states key witness (Smith) and the state attorneys own lead investigator, Robert Daniels.

A subsequent investigation into her claims revealed even more startling information concealed by the state… the key witness (Smith) was actually engaged in a personal relationship “of a sexual nature” with the local state attorney’s lead investigator (Daniels) while this case was brought against me. Investigator Daniels was in fact the very person who swore out the affidavit initialing these capital charges against me and then personally developed the circumstantial evidence use to corroborate the key witnesses story and convict me! Independent experts subsequently concluded this evidence was deliberately fabricated.

With the evidence now substantiating my long pled claim of actual innocence the local court and the state have mutually adopted a different strategy to prevent exposure of this already inconceivable injustice – my case would simply now be held hostage by the lower court and the review deliberately procrastinated. My case has now been before the 20th Judicial Circuit Court in Ft. Myers (Judge R. Thomas Corbin) since January 1988 – almost nine years!

To put this into perspective, in late 1988 when a “death warrant” was signed upon me, scheduling my imminent execution, I was assigned a lawyer to file my original post conviction appeal. This process, the time it was filed in that lower trial court to the time it was “fully reviewed” and denied by both the lower court and the Florida Supreme Court, took 32 days!

I ask you this… if the state finds it necessary to expedite review of a capital case when their intended objective is to execute a person, then doesn’t the basic concept of fundamental fairness (not to mention moral conscience!) demand that review of a substantial claim of actual innocence also be equally expedited? If our judicial system finds it necessary to rush to kill a person, then shouldn’t they also find it necessary to at least timely review, without unnecessary delay, a substantiated claim of actual innocence? What could possibly perpetuate a greater injustice than to deliberately procrastinate review of a substantiated claim of actual innocence for many years?

Justice delayed is justice denied! I ask that you help expose this injustice. Please read my case summary entitled “Southern Injustice: Condemning An Innocent Man” and article “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” at my blog found at www.lambrix.blogspot.com

It is said that, “evil can only prevail when good men choose to do nothing…” What choice will you make? If you have any questions my present lawyer is William Hennis, CCRC Litigation Director, and he can be reached in Ft. Lauderdale at (954) 713-1284, or you can email me at michaellambrix@hotmail.com (it would be forwarded)

Thank you for your time and I pray you will help expose this injustice.

Most Sincerely,
~Michael Lambrix~

October 25, 2006

Another Day; Another Dead

You’d think by now I’d have grown accustomed to the ritual I’ve seen played out only too many times. Since I’ve been on death row there’s been many – too many – people put to death. But it never seems to get any easier. Through these many years I have lived in close proximity to those taken out and killed. I come to know them as a friend, even a brother, as when you do live in such close proximity you can’t help but get to know that person in the next cell only too well.

Today, Arthur Rutherford was put to death, executed by the state for the crime he allegedly committed. I‘ve always known him by Dennis, and I’ll always remember him by Dennis. I’ll remember the long conversations we had around the solid concrete wall that separated our cells, often late at night when neither of us could sleep. He was a simple man, proud to be a “county boy” and what you saw was pretty what you got without any pomp or pretense. He could ramble on for hours talking about how barely an adult he went into the Marines and fought for his country in Vietnam. He’d talk of the friends that never made it home, those lost in a war that never made any sense – but it did to him as it was a simple issue... he served his country when they called him to duty, and was proud to do it.

Other times he could and would often talk for hours about his kids. Often while talking he would make small toys for his daughters out of yarn we would get in hobby-craft packages. I complimented him on a little turtle he made once and a few days later he sent me one just like it for my daughter. He did never had much money so I wouldn’t have asked but then I didn’t need to because that was just Dennis.

It’s been almost a year since the Governor had signed his death warrant and sent him back to Florida State Prison where they carry out executions, He was originally scheduled to be executed on January 21, 2005 but at the very last minute the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to consider the question of whether the method in which lethal injection administered in Florida is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.

As I understand it, they actually had him strapped to the gurney with the needle in his arm before he was granted that stay. I watched a local television station covering the anticipated execution “live” from outside the prison on my own television. They talked with is daughters and I was surprised that they were all grown. As they stood outside the prison on that cold winter day they had to ask the television crew if their father had gotten a stay as it was already after 6:00pm – the designated time executions are carried out – and they didn’t know.

Nobody spoke of his children huddled outside the prison waiting to hear whether their father was dead. The families of the condemned are the forgotten victims in all of this and seldom is their voice ever heard. What crime did they commit? What did they ever do to deserve that torment they are deliberately put through?

Today they lost their father. Is society now somehow safer than it would have been if Dennis were simply allowed to live out the rest of his life in a maximum-security prison? What good was actually accomplished by putting Dennis to death?

Today, we as a society choose to deliberately kill a man. Although convicted of murder, that is not who he was… that is a simple tragic event, an isolated act, and not the sum of his total life. Dennis was more than that, Dennis was a simple country boy not unlike many of us, and proud of it. He was equally proud to serve his country honorably when called to duty; sacrificing so much of himself in a war most of us still can’t make sense of. He came home a troubled young man but still committed himself to being a responsible husband and father. He was a Christian and believed in the power or forgiveness even when other refused to show mercy and compassion towards him.

Tonight the cellblock is much quieter than it usually is as many others around me that also actually know Dennis silently mourn the loss of a friend. In my own silence, I pray for his children who once again had to gather outside the prison and wait for what must have seemed like an eternity to learn whether their father lived or died. Tonight the lost their father and that’s something none of us should forget. When we pray for the victims, let’s remember all the victims.

October 24, 2006

Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied

Which is the greater injustice? Delaying the execution of a guilty person or delaying the exoneration of an innocent person? Politicians and judges all but openly compete with each other to invent and advocate establishing procedural rules to expedite review of capital cases when the intended objective is to expedite executions – but have you ever heard of a judge or politician advocating expedited review of a capital case for the purpose of determining whether an innocent person might have been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death?

If justice delayed is justice denied, then does it not stand to reason that this arguably self evident truth would apply with substantially greater force when the delays in question serve to, by deliberate design and intent, obstruct and impede the timely review of a substantiated claim of actual innocence?

Why is it that those wrongfully convicted and condemned to death often languish under this most extreme miscarriage of justice for decades before they can have their evidence heard and be judicially exonerated? Often this is because the evidence that does substantiate a claim of actual innocence is deliberately concealed for many years before being fortuitously discovered. But once discovered,
shouldn’t the judicial system adopt a policy and practice of expediting appellate review of that pled claim of actual innocence for the purpose of bringing a timely end to the claimed injustice?

The simple truth is that both the state and the courts want to expedite review when the objective is to speed up executions. Politically, that is a popular thing to do. But it is not in the states or courts interest to expedite review of a claim of actual innocence as the resulting exoneration embarrasses the system and undermines public confidence of the system as a whole. By delaying review and obstructing the ability to develop and present the evidence necessary to substantiate a claim of actual innocence that politically unpopular issue of actual innocence may even be rendered “moot” if the wrongfully condemned man simply dies of “natural causes” before his or her claim can be heard.

Consider the case of Frank Lee Smith, convicted and condemned to death in 1986 for the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year old girl in Broward County, Florida. Frank Smith insisted he was innocent, claiming a case of mistaken identity. In 1992 his lawyers discovered evidence that another man responsible for numerous other similar crimes in that area was also responsible for Smith’s alleged crime. The lawyers petitioned the local court for an order to compel the state to turn over forensic evidence held in their exclusive custody for DNA testing as such testing was not available when Smith was originally tried and convicted.

The Broward County State Attorney’s Office contested this motion and then methodically obstructed disclosure of this forensic evidence. However, Smith’s lawyers persisted and the evidence was finally tested – the DNA results conclusively confirmed that Frank Smith was completely innocent of the rape and murder he was convicted and condemned to death for committing. This exoneration came almost a year too late to help Frank Smith as months before that evidence was finally revealed Frank died of cancer while still on death row.

Frank Lee Smith spent a total of 16 years on death row even though the state had the evidence proving his innocence in their possession all along. Why would the state deliberately obstruct a person’s ability to establish their innocence? Isn’t the long recognized rule that a prosecutors first responsibility is to seek justice --not win at any cost? Smith’s case is not an isolated example of the Broward County State Attorney’s Office refusing to turn over DNA evidence that proved a wrongfully convicted person was innocent. See, Long v. Satz, 181 F. 3d 1271 (11th Cir. 1999) (prosecutor given immunity from civil action even though evidence established prosecutordeliberately concealed DNA evidence that would have proven man innocent.)

In March 1984 I was convicted and condemned to death for a double homicide in Glades County, Florida. I pled not guilty and have always and consistently maintained that the entire circumstantial case of alleged premeditated murder brought against me was deliberately fabricated.

By the states own admission the entire case was built upon the testimony of one witness – my ex-girlfriend – who herself readily admitted that she did not actually witness me commit and crime. There were no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence. And no confession to support this specious theory of alleged premeditated murder. The case went to trial in the small rural farming community of Glades County. The first trial ended in a “hung jury” but a retrial several months later resulted in a conviction and sentence of death. See, ”Southern Injustice: Condemning an Innocent Man”.

These convictions were affirmed by both the state and federal courts without any court ever addressing the sufficiency of the evidence or my pled claim of actual innocence. In 1988 I had a “death warrant” signed on me and came within hours of being executed before the Federal Court granted a stay of execution; that appeal was subsequently heard by the Supreme Court, but in a 5 to 4 decision, the Court ruled that although I was unquestionably illegally sentenced to death I could not be granted relief because my lawyers failed to properly file the appeals. See, Lambrix v, State, 520 U.S. 518 (1997). See also, "A Parody of Justice", by Martin Dyckman; St. Petersburg Times August 31st, 1997.

As I prepared to move back to “Death Watch” and again face execution a state witness unexpectedly admitted that her trial testimony was not true. Under sworn oath she told of how key witness Francis Smith and the states attorney’s lead investigator coerced her into providing that crucial false testimony. See, "Woman Recants Testimony in Murder Case".

It took almost five years before an evidentiary hearing was finally held. At that time the key witness also testified not surprisingly denying she coerced the witness to falsely testify. But then it was unexpectedly revealed for the first time ever that while I was being prosecuted, this key witness and the state attorney’s own lead investigator (Robert Daniels) – the very person who swore out the warrant for my arrest and was responsible for developing all the circumstantial evidence used to corroborate the key witness’ testimony – was actually having a secret personal relationship “of a sexual nature” with the key witness. See, "Witness Admits Affair With Investigator".

Subsequent to this discovery my state provided lawyers retained numerous independent “experts” in the field of homicide investigation and autopsies to determine whether this investigators relationship with the key witness tainted the development of the circumstantial evidence used to convict and condemn me. Without exception these experts concluded that the evidence was at the very least manipulated to favor the state, and crucial evidence was fabricated.

The presently pending appeal arguing and substantiating my actual innocence was filed in the lower state court in January 1998 – almost 9 years ago – and remains pending. With a copious wealth of evidence now substantiating my claim of innocence, why would the lower court and the state deliberately procrastinate review of my pled claim of actual innocence?

In 1988 when the governor signed my death warrant and formally scheduled my execution a lawyer was assigned to represent me on my first post conviction appeal. It took exactly 32 days for both the lower court and the Florida Supreme Court to completely review and deny that entire original post conviction appeal.

If the state courts can thoroughly review an original post conviction appeal challenging the convictions and death sentences on only 32 days when they intend to execute a person, then why is it taking almost a full decade to provide review of a claim of actual innocence in the same courts?

At the risk of redundancy, I ask again…Which is the greater injustice? Delaying the execution of a guilty person, or delaying the exoneration of an innocent person? If the sate courts can expedite review pf my post conviction appeal when they wanted to execute me, then why can’t they expedite review of my substantiated claim of actual innocence?

Will my fate be similar to that of Frank Lee Smith – will the state deliberately obstruct review until I too die of “natural causes.” Thus, rendering my claim of actual innocence moot? I was 22 years old when charged with this case in early 1983 – I am now 46 years old and have spent most of my life in solitary confinement condemned to death in spite of my innocence.

What is the difference between deliberately executing an innocent man and deliberately procrastinating review of a substantiated claim of innocence until the person dies on death row conveniently rendering the issue moot?

Although I have only a 9th grade formal education and am not formally trained in law, I believe that under both the Florida and U.S. Constitutions I do have a fundamental constitutional right to timely review without unnecessary delay of my pled claim of actual innocence.

Incredibly, the state has advocated and imposed procedural rules that require capital appeals to be filed within specific periods of time. If a death sentenced prisoner fails to meet these strictly enforced time limitations, then he or she is forever “procedurally barred” from pursuing those post conviction claims, even if the evidence proves actual innocence. See, Herrara v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993).

However, there are no rules that prohibit the state from obstructing or procrastinating review of a capital case that argues actual innocence. Why do politicians and judges push for a plethora of procedural rules designed to expedite the review of capital conviction appeals for the purpose of expediting executions -- but not even one rule that requires expedited review of a substantiated claim of innocence?

After too many years of attempting to compel the lower state court to expedite review of my claim of actual innocence I personally initiated a “Petition for Writ of Mandamas, alternatively habeas Corpus’ in the Florida Supreme Court arguing that the lower courts failure to provide “timely” review of my actual innocence appeal effectively deprived me of my state constitutional right to meaningful review “without delay.” See, Florida Constitution, Article I, Sec. 13 (explicitly recognizing that writ of habeas corpus “shall be grantable of right … returnable without delay”); Article I, Sec. 21 (“the courts shall be open to every person … and justice shall be administered without denial or delay”), thus now entitling we to relief from these wrongful convictions.

Being that I am barely able to afford a simple cup of coffee – much less hire a lawyer willing to represent me in this action, I was compelled to file this action with the Florida Supreme Court “pro se,” which means on my own without a lawyer. However, on August 3, 2006 the court summarily dismissed this case upon a finding that it was “an unauthorized pro se filing.” See, Lambrix v. State, Fla S. Ct. Case No. SC06-0038. I immediately filed a “motion for rehearing” arguing that I must be allowed to pursue the case in pro se capacity as I cannot afford a lawyer, nor has a lawyer been appointed to represent me in this matter. This now remains pending.

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied, but without competent legal representation willing to zealously advocate not only my now substantiated claim of actual innocence, but also take the action necessary to expedite review, justice will continue to be denied. I am presently represented by a state funded and statutorily limited state agency (the “Capital Collateral Regional Counsel”) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida – but this office is chronically under funded and unwilling to publicly advocate my claim of actual innocence. These are competent and committed lawyers, but by deliberate design and intent they are statutorily constrained from publicly advocating a claim of actual innocence or pursuing the necessary action to expedite review.

I remain condemned to a fate worse than death, -- I am condemned to slowly rot away while the state and the lower court procrastinate review until I too perhaps die of “natural causes” and my claim of actual innocence is rendered “moot.”

October 23, 2006

"After Innocence" Movie Review

"AFTER INNOCENCE tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated - innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. The film focuses on the gripping story of seven men and their emotional journey back into society and efforts to rebuild their lives. Included are a police officer, an army sergeant and a young father sent to prison and even death row for decades for crimes they did not commit."

"The film raises basic questions about human rights and society's moral obligation to the innocent and places a spotlight on the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful conviction of the innocent. The film features exonerees Dennis Maher of Lowell, MA; Calvin Willis of Shreveport, LA; Scott Hornoff of Providence, RI; Wilton Dedge of Cocoa Beach, FL; Vincent Moto of Philadelphia, PA; Nick Yarris of Philadelphia, PA; and Herman Atkins of Los Angeles, CA." Source

Perhaps it all started with Harrison Ford's role as "The Fugitive" in 1993. Or perhaps it's because in recent years almost 400 inmates have been proven innocent and released from prison after being convicted of crimes they didn't commit.

Whatever the reason, the idea that America's criminal justice system is insufferably flawed is steadily gaining traction in the public mind.

But what's been largely missing from the media's love affair with innocence is the soul behind this sensational story: the fact that behind each exonerated prisoner is a person with a life and a family beyond prison bars. The tragedy of post-conviction exoneration isn't just what it reveals about the grim state of our legal system, but the fact that after being released, many exonerees receive little more than an apology: no compensation, education, job training or emotional counseling. They're expected, instead, to walk away smiling from cells they didn't deserve to inhabit in the first place, grateful for the chance to re-enter old lives that, for many, feel as outdated as an ill-fitting high school sweater.

It's this struggle -- not just to readjust to life post-exoneration, but to win state compensation for wasted years -- that Los Angeles filmmaker Jessica Sanders attempts to capture in her powerful new documentary, "After Innocence," which premiered to wide acclaim at last January's Sundance Film Festival and premiered on Showtime October 19th.

"Wrongful conviction can happen to anyone," Sanders reminds us.

Read the New York Times Review of the moive HERE


Have you read the recently released book “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice In A Small Town” by renowned author John Grisham? Or perhaps you have recently seen the movie “After Innocence” by filmmaker Jessica Sanders. In them we learn about true life stories of men wrongfully convicted and condemned to death, stories that have become only too familiar as more and more men and women are being exonerated and released from death row after proving their innocence.

However, the vast majority of these stories are never heard. Most of the victims of the ultimate miscarriages of justice simply do not have a voice on the outside willing to tell their stories. Almost without exception the story is never told until after their release and they must languish for years – even decades – in solitary confinement condemned to death for a crime they didn’t commit.

At 46 years old Mike Lambrix has now spent most of his entire life on death row for a crime he is innocent of. When he was 22 years old, then a recently divorced father of three young children, Mike was charged and then indited on two counts of alleged permeditated capital murder.

This is a case of ”Southern Injustice” of an inconceivable magnitude – a theory of events deliberately fabricated by a single “key witness” (Francis Smith) and corroborated by two witnesses that callaborated with her. There were no eyewitnesses, no physical or frorensic evidence, and no confession. The entire case was based upon the testimoney of Mike’s ex-girlfriend and supported by her own cousin’s girlfriend and the local state attorney’s lead investigator.

Mike has consistently maintained his innocence, insisting that the entire theory of alleged premeditated murder was deliberately fabricated by his ex-girlfriend and the local state attorney’s office. BUT nobody would listen, not even when Mike was within hours of actual execution. Why would they fabricate the case?

In 1998 that question began to be answered when the only witness corroberating Smith’s story came forth and admitted her testimony was false. (See, Woman Recants Testimony in Murder Case.) At a subsequent hearing she then testified under oath that Mike’s ex-girlfriend and the states attorney’s lead investigator (Robert Daniels) had coerrced her to testify falsely and that contrary to her testimony Mike never told her he killed anyone.

That evidence opened the door to further hearings and even more startling evidence was revealed supporting Mike’s long pled claims that these witnesses conspired to have him wrongfully convicted. In April 2004 key witness Smith was compelled to appear in court. At that time it was revealed – for the first time ever – that while this case was prosecuted against Mike, Smith was engaged in a personal relationship “of a sexual nayure” with the state attorney’s lead investigator (Daniels) – the very person who had initiated the formal charges against Mike and was then responsible for developing the specious circumstantial evidence used to corroberate Smith’s fabricated claim of premeditated capital murder. (See, Witness Admits Affair With Investigator.)

With the motive to fabricate this case now exposed, investigations were conducted that led to a wealth of additional evidence showing, how the local state attorney’s office deliberately manipulated the wholly circumstantial evidence and even the autopsy reports to support their fabricated theory of capital premeditated murder; with the deliberate design and intent of having Mike wrongfully convicted and condemned to death.

How could this happen? We’ve all heard stories of how the legal system works in the “Deep South.” Mike’s case was prosecuted in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Florida; which is comprised mostly of Southwest Florida’s rural farming area. Although relatively small in population, this judicial circuit has the highest rate of wrongful convictions in capital (death sentenced) cases in the country.

The Prosecutor in Mike’s case, Randall McGruther (now Chief Deputy State Attorney) himself has a history of overzealous prosecution and allegedly coercing false testimony. Recently, the Florida Supreme Court exonerated and ordered the release of death row inmate John Ballard after finding that McGruther subjectively interpreted and manipulated the circumstantial evidence used to improperly convict and condemn him. See, Ballard v. State, 923 So. 2d 475 (Fla. 2006)

Justice delayed is justice denied. Mike’s claim of actual innocence, and the wealth of evidence that now substantiates that claim, has been pending before the lower state court for almost 9 years! Mike’s only hope of expediting a finality to this inconceivable injustice deliberately perpetuated against him is to generate outside support and public review. A full summary of the case is on this blog and entitled ”Southern Injustice: Condemning an Innocent Man.” Please take the time to read this true story and help end this injustice. Without immediate and effective outside support, the state will continue to prolong this injustice indefinitely. Your support can make a difference – evil can only prevail when good men choose to do nothing.

October 21, 2006

A Condemned Man's Perspective of "The Innocent Man"

When I grow up I am going to be a pretty white boy of wealth and privilege, a hometown hero that inevitably falls from grace. I am going to bestow upon myself all the opportunities to do anything I want with my life. Then I am going to blow it. But really, don’t blame me as there’s a balance to everything and as good as it may get I am still going to be handicapped by mental illness that leads to substance abuse, which leads to death row for a crime I didn’t commit.

In the recently released book “The Innocent man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town” renowned best selling author John Grisham tells the true life story of Ron Williamson, “ a once promising ballplayer who spent 11 years on Oklahoma’s death row for rape and murder he did not commit.” It’s a tragic story of injustice that needs to be told -- and needs to be read – and I applaud John Grisham for the excellent job he did.

But here’s the kicker … would John Grisham had written this book if Williamson was actually more emblematic of the average man wrongfully convicted and condemned to death? Even as much as I command Grisham for the outstanding job he did in exposing just how easy it is to end up on death row for a crime you didn’t commit, I’m afraid I must confess that “The Innocent Man” is not another “to Kill a Mockingbird.”

Then again, it shouldn’t be. Maybe it’s there that we did confront the truth that anyone -- even someone of privilege and opportunity – can be wrongfully convicted and condemned to death in spite of innocence. Maybe it’s time that the average person out there presently ignorant of how the judicial system really works gets a peek into the reality of our legal system. This book provides that look.

Most people out there in the real world – especially those who support the death penalty – are conveniently ignorant of how the system works. What Grisham’s book does not adequately impress upon the reader is this… as tragic as the Williamson story is, Ron Williamson is a very lucky man. I’m sorry that he had to experience such an injustice and that his life ended way too soon. But he is still a very lucky man as if he was truly the “average” innocent man on death row this story would have never been told and Williamson would probably have died on death row.

John Grisham wrote the Williamson story most likely because he could personally empathize with Ron Williamson. Both grew up in small towns of the quintessential American Midwest. They both came from strict Christian homes and played baseball at their local little league. Both had supportive families with a real future that surely included the classic American coming of age ritual of going to the prom and graduating high school and then on to college. Could it be that what this book is really about is John Grisham saw himself in Ron Williamson and realized that with all the privileges and opportunities the “average” small town boy had, it still didn’t take much to wrongfully convict him and send him to death row.

But by the grace of God go I… Ron Williamson was a blessed man. Of the 25 men and women exonerated in Florida after being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death, only one was exonerated by DNA evidence. Frank Smith died on death row of cancer before that DNA evidence could clear him. As a poor Afro-American man with a troubled past and a long history of mental illness, his story will never be memorialized in a bestseller.

Juan Melendez (“Johnny”) spent 18 years on Florida’s death row before being exonerated. He was for a time my cell neighbor and always a friend. As a poor Hispanic migrant worker his story won’t be memorialized. Like most of the condemned, he never had any outside support. When the day came for his release he didn’t even have a pair of shoes – I gave him my own shoes so that he wouldn’t walk back into the free world barefoot.

For over 23 years now I’ve argued my own innocence to anyone who would listen – and very few were ever willing to listen. Although a wealth of evidence substantiating my innocence has been pending before the lower state court for almost 9 years now, I remain here. Although some may say I am a pretty white boy, unlike Williamson as a means of necessity I left home at 15. To say that I had an abusive childhood and dysfunctional family would be an understatement. In 1988 when I came within hours of execution and the prison arranged a “final visit” with family – nobody came. I don’t have family or friends willing to advocate my cause. With only a 9th grade formal education all too often I am forced to represent myself in court. In the past 8 years I’ve had 9 different lawyers as consistently these lawyers abruptly resign from the low paid state agency responsible for representing death row prisoners to take a better job, abruptly abandoning my case.

My case is not the exception, but the rule. Without the outside support and the committed legal representation Ron Williamson had, he would have just been another nobody and regardless of evidence of actual innocence, he probably would have died on death row. John Grisham/s book is an excellent expose of a corrupt judicial system – but Ron Williams was not the average death row inmate – Williamson was a lucky man.

October 20, 2006

A Day in the Life Under Death by Mike

What a pathetic sight I must be as I attempt to squint here at the very edge of my steel bunk seemingly transfixed by the way the slivers if sunlight slowly steal their way across my cold concrete floor on a journey that will soon enough lead up to my evening ritual. With a cup of coffee in my one hand I sip at the bitter taste as I patiently wait for that moment when the distant descending sun will stretch these slivers of light their fullest length allowing me to then see the sun itself as there, so far beyond the three sets of bars that separate me from that narrow dusty window I can look outside across the barren field where the infamous “Raiford Rock” once stood for more years than anyone I know can even remember, but now an empty field where not even weeds will grow as if even the hope of life itself has long been abandoned.

At a distance beyond that condemned piece of ground I can see a row of tall Grandfather Oak trees running along a road that leads to the front gate of Union Correctional Institution on the main prison compound. Just beyond those stately trees stands the simple brick structure of the prison chapel with its traditional towering white steeples reaching towards the heavens.

Soon the sun will set beyond that distant horizon directly behind this chapel and that horizon will ever so very slowly explode into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors of fiery reds, pastel oranges, and accents of yellow before slowly surrendering into darker groups as far as I can see in either direction and but for a brief second that fading light will perfectly silhouette that distant chapel cradled in the branches of those trees as a portrait of tranquility trapped between the two worlds of night and day.

It is at that moment of each day that each day itself is defined for me, that moment of comfort and private communion that renews my physical strengths if but only by the knowledge that I’ve survived yet another day. Soon that stealthy light will be consumed and swallowed by the distant horizon and I will rise from where I now squint and face yet another of what has already been far to many long and cold nights in my solitaire cage relentlessly haunted by the demons of what once was and what might have been – and even more by the thoughts of what may very will never be.

Just as my hopes and dreams live with the light of each day, my fears and regrets come with the cold loneliness of each night as when the small world around me grows silent I am reminded of just how alone and abandoned I truly am. As the many years have slowly passed too often sleep would never come, perhaps my way of holding on to today for fear of having to confront yet another tomorrow, until I finally surrendered to a dependency on antidepressant tranquilizers that each night induced an involuntary sleep as without that temporary refuge of unconsciousness one day would become the next and too quickly overwhelm me.

It has been a long and difficult journey. A few photos hang on my wall to remind me of the generation that has now passed me by. There’s the photo of me taken just before my arrest in early 1983, a young man with a whole life still ahead. A photo of my now long divorced ex-wife holding our daughter on the day we brought her home from the hospital, now faded and tattered at the edges; and then, the more recent photo of me holding my grandson in the death row visiting park. My children were so young when I was first imprisoned – and now I am a grandfather: a generation has passed.

Each day has a beginning and an end and yet it is the end of the day that I look to, to define my beginning. As each day begins I will awake from the sound of the chow cart coming through the steel door and moving down the wing towards my cell. Reluctantly I will stretch and then half stagger towards the combination sink and toilet a short step away. The cold water brings me to life as I blindly reach to the wall for my towel. As I dry off, I incoherently voice a vile thought towards this new day and then walk the few steps to the front of my cell to receive the tray of bland, cold food I’ve actually become accustomed to.

My cell has no table or chair and to eat I must precariously balance the plastic food try on my lap while sitting on the steel footlocker that holds all of my worldly possessions. We are allowed only a plastic spoon to eat with but then eating cold oatmeal or grits with a plastic spoon is not that difficult and few foods we are served would require more than that.

After I eat my breakfast I will turn my small black and white T.V. on and listen to the morning news as I read through old newspapers or magazines that are passed down the line and shared. Although we are allowed to receive magazine subscriptions, few of us can afford to so what any of us receive are most often shared and passed down the cellblock.

The magazines not only keep me informed on what’s happening in the real world but also provide pictures of the rapidly changing world beyond us in full color. It’s funny how you never really think about it, but in my world the system methodically attempts to deny us any color. The walls around me are cold and gray – not really gray as they are actually a light tone of beige with brown trim and the bars flat black. But in my mind I still see only grey… cold, cold, colorless gray.

The state provides a T.V. donated by various religious organizations – but prison rules prohibit color televisions and allow only a small black and white one, as well as a small “walkman” type radio. Reception on both is often, at best, bad but it brings in the sound of the real world even if the colors are prohibited. I smile when I think of that as at times a particular song will play on the radio and someone will holler out, and as others quickly tune into that station a number of men will simultaneously break out singing along; because all radios must be operated with headphones, the song itself is not heard – only the broken voices of the men; each singing along but not necessarily in tune. In stolen moments like that we each in our solitaire cell become one.

The hours pass by mid-morning the cellblock begins to come alive. Down the hall I can hear a couple of guys calling out chess moves and I momentarily follow the game. Closer to me tow others exchange trivial conversation around a concrete wall that separates them and at the far end I can hear one of the “bugs,” those of us so-called because we – or I should say he – has lost touch with reality and will spend the day talking and yelling to himself, or imaginary others.

As the morning passes and noon approaches I again hear the metallic clang of the food cart and wash my hands to eat. Soon enough the cart is at my cell and I silently accept my tray, most often some form of mystery meat or breaded “fish” complimented with half cooked rice and watery beans. Whether or not the particular food served that day is different from the day before remains debatable. as the bland food all tastes the same, if one can tell the taste at all.

Then the long afternoon passes and if it is not my floors day to go to the outdoor recreation yard -- an enclosed concrete pad with high fences topped by shiny razor wire – I will pass the day reading a book if I have a book worth reading, or writing a letter. If we go out to “rec” we are allowed two hours each time, but no more than a maximum of four hours each week, to play basketball or volleyball, or just to talk to other guys on the floor without the concrete and bars separating us.

By late afternoon the guards change shifts and as the new shift comes on we prepare to shave and shower. As simple as showering may be, it becomes a humiliating and even painful experience in this world as each time we leave our cells we must first be handcuffed behind the back and then escorted to a small shower cell at the very front of the wing. Once securely locked in that shower cell the handcuffs are removed and a quick shower is taken before the guards replace the cuffs and escort us back, one at a time. Cheap plastic disposable razors are passed out just before we shower and collected and counted immediately after.

As evening approaches it is time to eat again, yet it’s just another meal very much the same as that fed at lunch. There is little variety in the food we eat as the menu repeats itself weekly – for years at a time. If I happen to forget what day it is, I’m quickly reminded by what we are served at breakfast. I eat what I can but even after so many years I’m unable to eat most of what is served. That which I do not eat I feed to my cellmate Johnny Coe Mode, that being the toilet and believe me, he eats well and is apparently even grateful, as he’s never complained.

My time with my ritualistic sunsets varies and is at times broken by the evening meal. For now I am fortunate that I am in a cell with this view as most of the cells look out over the concrete rec yard and to the adjacent wing beyond. But even then I would look out if for no other reason than to watch the birds on the yard.

We all engage in our rituals this time of day as the cellblock becomes abnormally quiet while we anxiously await the days mail run, each of us hoping to get a letter from someone we love. And after the mail runs it remains silent – the few who got mail quietly read that cherished letter while those who did not retreat into a depressed silence that can last for hours –even days. Even as uplifting as it is to receive even one letter, it’s the despair of not receiving any at all that overwhelms you.

The evening turns to night and most of us withdraw to watch television, the electronic pacifier that helps us maintain our relative sanity as God forbid that we should lose touch with reality and become mentally incompetent as if deemed to be incompetent we cannot be executed. The televisions are not a luxury provided for our comfort but a necessity provided to maintain our sanity so that we can ultimately be executed.

That tranquility of my evening ritual marks my day, both beginning and end. Another day has run its monotonous course and my cage has become my refuge as I even become accustomed to this small, solitary world. My world is deliberately structured to methodically institutionalize me and intellectually I know that. I accept that the deliberate degradation and humiliation are intended to ever so slowly erode away my identity and even humanity so that by the time I do reach that fate that awaits me I am reduced to something inhumane and unworthy of comparison. By breaking me completely when the time comes to face that fate I am programmed to surrender passively, even welcoming my fate as a means of finally escaping a fate even worse than death itself… the fate of slowly rotting away in solitaire confinement as that fate stalks you relentlessly.

This was my day today and will be my day again for all of my tomorrows. In my own mind I chase the ghosts of the past to acquire the strength to survive the future, as the only life I know is the life I once had. In the world I’ve been condemned to I am neither allowed to live or die and it’s that existence without the ability to exist that is my worse fate of all.

October 18, 2006

Legal Representation In Capital Cases – Privilege or Pretense?

If you think about it, maybe Shakespeare had a point when he said, “the first thing we need to do is kill all the lawyers.” (Hamlet, act II) The evidence is now overwhelming and the verdict is clear – lawyers are getting in the way of carrying out more executions. Then there’s that damned “Constitution” – Were those guys drunk when they got together and drew up the “Bill of Rights?”

We can’t kill the lawyers as we already know they’re a lot like cockroaches – if you kill one, ten more will show up to feed off the carcass. And if it takes a group of drunken men to dream up the Bill of Rights, theoretically protecting every citizen equally against the formidable force of government, then that’s the strongest argument I have heard yet against prohibition.

So, here’s an idea … let’s elect morally corrupt lawyers to political office and every election year they can compete with each other to come up with ingenious ways to just circumvent the inconvenience of Constitutional protections extended to those already convicted and condemned to death; those political parasites that concoct the most insidious means in which to circumvent the Constitutional concept of “due process” and “equal protection” can then be rewarded by being elected to office.

Is this proposition really that absurd? Has it not become an American tradition to campaign for political office on hate and malignancy? The easiest target; of course, is the lowest-of-low – the lumpenproletariats of our own society, those least able to defend against the infinite resources of government and most likely to inflame the lynch mob mentality as when all else fails – especially when you cannot run on issues of substance and matter – one sure way to win votes is to foam at the mouth like a rabid dog, intoxicated by its own blood lust, while screaming to the mobs that gather that you will push for “quicker executions and kill those monsters.” That is the nature of the beast; the southern way to win political office.

Recently, the American Bar Association has called for a moratorium on the death penalty in Florida (See, DEATH PENALTY: Florida Death Penalty System Criticized ) after recognizing that Florida has the highest rate of wrongfully convicted and condemned men and women in the country as since the reinstatement of the death penalty almost 30 years ago, twenty-two death row inmates have been exonerated from death row in Florida. This means that one out of every forty men and women convicted and condemned to death in Florida were wrongfully convicted. Some might agree that, that’s not such a big deal – that, that’s an acceptable error rate when you consider the greater good of aggressively prosecuting murderers. But, what if our government erected roadblocks and began to randomly execute one out of every forty drivers under the pretense of deterring drunk drivers?

The American Bar Association also found that in Florida legal counsel assigned to represent capital defendants in often complex and lengthy trials are inadequately compensated as the state law limits compensation at only $3500 per case and that there is little oversight of “registry” lawyers assigned to represent those sentenced to death in their complex post conviction appeals.

This brings us back to where we began … if we can’t kill the lawyers then clearly the next best thing is to devise means in which to reader them incapable of providing effective and meaningful representation.

Although these morally corrupt parasitic politicians that pathetically prey upon the lowest of the low are vile creatures devoid of conscience, they are by no means stupid. Most are in fact former lawyers … they know that if they do not provide lawyers to those condemned to death they cannot carry out executions. But they have both the intelligence and power to deliberately manipulate this need for representation by concocting politically motivated and manufactured procedural rules that intentionally obstruct the ability of appointed counsel to actually represent the condemned prisoner. Thus, establishing a system of representation that, by deliberate design and intent, promotes the appointment of inexperienced and incompetent lawyers. By which, they successfully circumvent the inconvenience of lengthy post conviction appeals by simply eliminating the ability to present claims of alleged error (including actual innocence) and effectively reducing this presumed privilege of legal representation to nothing but a pretense.

Very few people who support the death penalty are aware that the Supreme Court has unequivocally stated that the Constitution does not prohibit the execution of a person who is actually innocent. Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993). That the Constitution only guarantees a “fair trial” and that as long as the person received a fair trial – that being defined as a trial in which no substantial Constitutional errors occurred – even if unquestionably factually innocent, the state could still carry out the execution.

In McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849 (1994) the Supreme Court recognized that capital post conviction appeals are inherently complex and that without competent legal representation a death sentenced prisoner presumably could not meaningfully pursue the review of claims of Constitutional error affecting the trial. But the same Supreme Court has also made it clear that there is no constitutional right to legal representation in capital post conviction proceedings. Murray v. Giarratano, 492 U.S. 1 (1989)

Without reasonably competent post conviction representation a person under sentence of death – especially when placed and kept in solitary confinement, with most often a minimal education and disabling mental issues – cannot even hope to have the alleged claims of constitutional error necessary to establish the deprivation of a “fair trial” presented to the courts. In Herrera v. Collins the Supreme Court clearly stated that failure to properly and timely present any claims of Constitutional error – including actual innocence – will result in the claims being procedurally barred from review.

Thus, there is no question that without competent post conviction representation those sentenced to death will not be able to present the claims necessary to determine whether they were deprived of a fair trail, or even present newly discovered evidence of actual innocence. Once a failure to properly or timely present such claims occurs, the courts are prohibited from reviewing the case again. See, Herrera, See also, Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991)

Is the American Bar being unreasonable when they’ve recently called for a moratorium on the death penalty in Florida in part because of Florida’s refusal to establish adequate safeguards to ensure that those under sentence of death receive reasonable competent representation? Why should anyone even care if those convicted and condemned to death even receive competent legal representation?

In Florida the state created and funded an office specifically to provide post conviction representation to death row inmates. But since its inception in 1985 as the “Capital Collateral Representation” the office has been inadequately funded. See, Spalding v. Duggar, 526 So. 2d 71 (Fla. 1988); Arbelaez v. Butterworth, 738 So. 2d 326 (Fla. 1999). Without adequate funding the lawyers assigned to provide post conviction representation cannot investigate, develop, and present legitimate claims of constitutional error – including developing evidence necessary to establish the condemned persons actual innocence.

Prosecutorial misconduct has become one of the leading causes of capital convictions being vacated upon appellate review. Repeatedly prosecutors are found to have deliberately concealed exculpatory evidence that if disclosed would have questioned the defendant’s guilt. See, Floyd v. State, 902 So. 2d 775 (Fla. 2005); Mordenti v. State, 894 So. 2d 161 (Fla. 2004); Cordona v. State, 826 So. 2d 968 (Fla. 2002); Rogers v. State, 782 So. 2d 373 (Fla. 2001) But, as recognized in Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993) if the lawyers assigned to represent the condemned prisoner do not “timely” develop and present that undiscovered evidence – even if that evidence absolutely establishes the prisoner’s actually innocence – the courts are prohibited from reviewing the claim or providing relief.

Politicians in Florida have consistently obstructed the state funded capital post conviction lawyers from providing meaningful representation. By establishing statutory provisions governing these lawyers, see, Florida Statutes, Chapter 27.701-712 (1998), the elected legislature has assumed control over them; as about half of those presently under a sentence of death in Florida are represented by privately contracted “registry” counsel in their post conviction proceedings. See, In Re Rules of Criminal Procedure, etc, 719 So. 2d 869 (Fla. 1998) even though there is a wide spread acknowledgement that those “registry” lawyers are not qualified to provide such representation. See, e.g. Jan Pudlow, “Justice Rips Shoddy Work of Private Capital Case Lawyers,” The Florida Bar News, March 1, 2005, (quoting Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, appearing before the Florida Senate Committee on Justice on February 16, 2005 “I think some of the worst lawyering I’ve seen is from some of the registry counsel … it seems to me some registry counsel have little or no experience in death penalty cases”), see also, Death Appeals Not Quite Dead, http://www.fadp.org/news/bizrev_5_20.html April 30, 2003 (reviewing history of problems with inexperienced “registry” lawyers in capital cases)

How does Florida respond to this problem of incompetent post conviction representation in capital cases? When adopting “minimal standards” applicable to appointment of lawyers in capital cases, the Florida Supreme Court specifically excluded lawyers appointed in post conviction proceedings, declining to adopt even a minimal standard of competency and experience. See, In Re Amendments to Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, 820 So. 2d 185, 188 (Fla. 2002)

Further, in cases in which a death sentenced prisoner attempts to argue that his right to a meaningful opportunity to present post conviction claims –including actual innocence – was denied due to the incompetence of assigned legal counsel the Florida Supreme Court has consistently refused to provide subsequent review of these “procedurally barred” claims. Finding that, although legal counsel is provided, there is no constitutional right to “effective” post conviction counsel: therefore, if such counsel does fail to provide competent representation the resulting default cannot be grounds for an exemption to statutorily created procedural rules. See, e.g. Kobal v. State, 901 So. 2d 766, 777-778 (Fla. 2005) (explaining that recognizing exemption to procedural ruled based upon ineffective post conviction representation would open the “floodgates” to more appeals, and concluding that, “As recognized by both this Court and the United States Supreme Court,” defendants have no constitutional right to representation in capital post conviction proceedings.”); Waterhouse v. State, 792 So. 2d 1176, 1193 (Fla. 2001) (“This Court has repeatedly held that ineffective assistance of post conviction counsel is not a cognizable claim.”); Lambrix v. State, 698 So. 2d 247, 248 (Fla. 1996)(“claims of ineffective assistance of post conviction counsel do not present a valid basis for relief.”)

Whether one supports the death penalty or not, we as a society have a moral responsibility to ensure that it is carried out in a fair manner. Once a person has been condemned to death the post conviction review process is inherently complex and without competent legal representation those wrongfully convicted and condemned to death have no meaningful opportunity to develop the evidence necessary to prove their innocence. The system has become inherently corrupt by politicians who advocate expediting executions at the expense of necessary safeguards to protect against executing innocent victims, and the courts unwilling to establish judicial protections to ensure competent legal representation is provided. As a result, the presumed “privilege” of capital post conviction representation has been reduced to a pathetic pretense of representation and the inevitable result of that pretense will be that innocent people will be executed because of the deprivations of any meaningful opportunity to prove their innocence.

October 16, 2006

Hearing Excerpt Compelling Claim VI ~July 19-20, 2006 ~

These are the excerpts from the July 2006 hearing where Mike was forced to intervene on his own behalf and compel the court to address Claim VI and allow for a full and fair hearing of all the evidence not just the narrow issue of the sexual affair between Smith-Ottinger, the states key witness and Robert Daniels, The state attorneys own lead investigator. He has to do this because his lawyers did not agressivly pursue these even though he expressly asked them too.

Please click to enlarge

Prosecutorial Misconduct: Does Immunity Invite Injustice?

It has long been recognized that a prosecutor’s duty is to seek justice. In Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78 (1935) our Supreme Court declared this mandate recognizing that prosecutors should “prosecute with eagerness and vigor” but may not use “improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction.” If a prosecutor’s misconduct “so reflects the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process” then the conviction might be vacated – but only if the Court finds that the prosecutor’s actions constituted “egregious misconduct.” Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168 (1987)

In other words, as long as the reviewing court determines, based upon their own post-conviction subjective interpretation, that the evidence notwithstanding the alleged misconduct is sufficient to support the conviction, a prosecutor’s deliberate misconduct is judicially tolerated, and the conviction cannot be vacated. This is generally called the “harmless error” rule … if the reviewing court determines that the person is probably guilty anyway. Then the “error” of a deliberate prosecutorial misconduct is deemed “harmless.” See, e.g. Cargle v. Mullin, 317 F. 3d 1196 (10th Cir. 2003) (“ A prosecutor’s misconduct will require reversal of a conviction only where the misconduct sufficiently infected the trial so as to make it fundamentally unfair.”); Mason v. Mitchell, 320 F. 3d 604 (6th Cir. 2003) (“The misconduct must be so pronounced and persistent that it permeates the entire atmosphere of the trial”)

Imagine a world where traffic laws said that you must stop at a red light, but another rule is then established by the courts that says that even if you do deliberately run that red light, as long as you don’t hit anyone it’s “harmless error.” What if we change the laws prohibiting drunk driving – but only if you actually hit and kill someone? No harm, no foul … that’s simple enough.

The problem with this perverted logic is that the true harm is not in the result of the deliberate misconduct – but in the misconduct itself. Our constitutional democracy works because we have become a nation of laws that evolve as necessary to protect the rights of all citizens. If we create a system that effectively absolves deliberate prosecutorial misconduct based upon subjective interpretation of actual harm inflicted and not the act of misconduct itself, do we not invite and even encourage prosecution misconduct?

As a civilized society we embrace the concept of law and order. Without laws there can be no “order” as one cannot exist without the other. Now imagine a world where every individual is subject to accountability – except those empowered by the government to enforce those laws. In today’s system with an epidemic of wrongful convictions increasingly undermining confidence in the system as a whole, prosecutional misconduct has become the leading cause of miscarriages of justice.

Even with this epidemic of prosecutional misconduct victimizing innocent men and women with wrongful incarceration and even condemning them to death, prosecutors enjoy “absolute immunity” from judicial accountability. In Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976) the Supreme Court concluded that prosecutors – even when they deliberately fabricate evidence, present false evidence, and knowingly use perjured testimony, even when they deliberately prosecute someone they know is innocent – are entitled to “absolute immunity” and cannot be held judicially accountable. The Supreme Court concluded, “The ultimate fairness of the system could be weakened” if prosecutors were held accountable in court for even deliberate misconduct.

The majority of prosecutors do exercise self-constraint and do act in good faith. But borrowing from an old adage, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the whole bunch. Add to that the political consequences that make admitting error, the equivalent of career suicide, and a culture that promotes those who will win at any cost; where the most “successful” prosecutors are those who practice the philosophy that “the ends justify the means” and you have a system that invites injustice, and becomes by its very nature inherently corrupt from within.

The most extreme injustice conceivable is that of an innocent man or woman being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death. Florida by far leads the country in the number of wrongful capital convictions in which innocent men and women were condemned to death only later to be judicially exonerated. But why does Florida wrongfully convict and even condemn so many innocent people?

For one thing, Florida remains the exception to most other states in establishing a means of statutory compensation for those found to have been wrongfully convicted. Most states provide compensation to those found to have been wrongfully convicted … but not Florida Common sense tells you that if the state has to pay substantial amounts of money to compensate those victimized by the system, then inevitably there will be a call to hold those responsible for inflicting the injustice accountable. In Florida at least 24 men and women have been judicially exonerated after being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death – yet not even once has the prosecutor found to have engaged in deliberate misconduct been held accountable.

How can we deny that the absence of accountability is itself an invitation to injustice? If our system can identify the small numbers of specific prosecutors who have reportedly engaged in deliberate misconduct then is there not a moral responsibility to at the very least ensure that these few corrupt individuals never practice law again? If we identify a doctor that has deliberately engaged in malpractice causing injury to his or her patient, do we not take action to strip them of their license to practice? Why would we demand anything less of a person entrusted to represent “We, the people” in a court of law? Is not the deliberate violation or that most sacred test at least as equally contemptible – and intolerable – as a physician deliberately engaging in acts of malpractice that victimizes his patients?

The hypocrisy that presently exists is perpetuated by the system itself. The Florida Supreme Court has repeatedly admonished prosecutors for deliberate misconduct in capital cases, promising that disciplinary actions would follow if that behavior continues, yet not even once has the Court actually taken action. This judicial rhetoric is readily found in case law … In Ruiz v. State, 743 So. 2d 1 (Fla. 1999) the Florida Supreme Court stated that, “ we warned of the dire consequences of such ‘inexcusable prosecutorial overkill.’” citing, Hill v. State, 477 So. 2d 553 (Fla. 1985) “… yet in spite of our admonishment in Hill and despite subsequent warnings that prosecutorial misconduct will be subject to disciplinary proceedings by the Florida Bar, we never-the-less continue to encounter this problem with unacceptable frequency.”

Both Ruiz and Hill were capital cases in which the victimized defendant was sentenced to death; but they’re certainly not the only capital (death sentence) cases in which the Court rhetorically admonished prosecutors for acts of deliberate misconduct. See, e.g. Garcia v, State, 622 So. 2d 1325 (Fla. 1993) (“Once again, we are compelled to reiterate the need for propriety, particularly where the death penalty is involved.”); Nowitzke v. State, 572 So. 2d 1346 (Fla. 1990) (“We are distressed over the lack of propriety and restraint exhibited in the overzealous prosecution of capital cases.”); Garron v. State, 528 So. 2d 353 (Fla. 1988) (“Such violations of the prosecutor’s duty to seek justice and not merely ‘win’ a death case cannot be condoned by this Court.”); andBertolotti v. State, 476 So. 2d 130 (Fla.1985) (“we have recently addressed incidents of prosecutional misconduct, in the face of repeated admonitions against such overreaching, to be grounds for appropriate disciplinary proceedings.”)

All of these cases in which the Florida Supreme Court explicitly recognized acts of prosecutorial misconduct share several things in common … each of these cases the defendant was sentenced to death (several of these defendants have since even been executed) and in each of these cases no actual disciplinary action was taken against the prosecutor found to have engaged in such misconduct.

Two distinct forms of prosecutorial misconduct have accounted for the majority of cases in Florida in which a wrongfully convicted and condemned person was subsequently exonerated by the Courts and released from death row. The first form are acts of prosecutional misconduct in which a prosecutor is subsequently found to have knowingly withheld material evidence of an exculpatory nature from the defense – In many cases evidence that would have proven the person innocent. The second form are acts of overzealous prosecution in which a prosecutor has a wholly circumstantial case of specious nature, yet proceeds to prosecute by simply manipulating the jury into believing the evidence proves guilt beyond reasonable doubt even though the evidence is legally insufficient to support guilt.

The most recent exoneration released from Florida’s death row after almost six years of incarceration is John Ballard. After being convicted and condemned to death without any eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confession; the Florida Supreme Court concluded that the erroneous conviction was the product of overzealous prosecution; that the prosecutor (Deputy Assistant State Attorney Randall McGruther) improperly stacked circumstantial inference upon inference to convince the jury of Ballard’s guilt even though no credible evidence actually supported guilt. See, Ballard v. State, 923 So 2d 475 (Fla. 2006)

This same prosecutor, Randall McGruther, has a history of unethical overzealous prosecution, especially in wholly circumstantial capital cases – Mr. McGruther was the prosecutor in my own case in which the evidence now shows that the entire wholly circumstantial case of alleged premeditated murder was deliberately fabricated with an intent to have me wrongfully convicted and condemned to death. See, Southern Injustice: Condemning an Innocent Man.

Has any disciplinary action ever been pursued against Mr. McGruther? No. In fact, Mr. McGruther is now the top prosecutor in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit States Attorney’s Office, handpicked as “Deputy Assistant State Attorney” by the elected State Attorney Steve Russell himself.

Additionally, that particular state attorney’s office, although comprised of the mostly rural farming counties of Southwest Florida and relatively small in population, has the highest rate of wrongful convictions in capital cases in the entire county. At least five men have been judicially exonerated since 1980 after being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death by that office itself, (Dilbert Tibbs, James Richardson, Bradley Scott, John Landry, and John Ballard), yet to date there has never been an investigation into why that office accounts for such as abnormally high number of wrongful convictions in capital cases.

Capital cases may only reflect a small minority of the collective number of criminal cases prosecuted in this country; but it is these cases that society is asked to impose and extract the most extreme measure of justice. If these examples of injustice, resulting from acts of prosecutorial misconduct, can be found to be what amounts to deliberate policy and practice; then does it not stand to reason that this cancerous corruption of our judicial system exists at an even greater scale in cases that are not subjected to such thorough judicial scrutiny?

Prosecutorial misconduct is a corruption that acts as a cancer upon the very integrity of our judicial system as a whole. This corruption exists only because the judicial system itself is allowing it to exist. When a small group of prosecutors engage in repeated acts of deliberate misconduct resulting in convicting and condemning innocent men and women to death, then those few individual prosecutors become nothing less than state sanctioned killers and it is societies responsibility to insist that these prosecutors who have been found to have engaged in deliberate misconduct never practice law again. If we are not willing to hold them accountable, then we invite the injustice that inevitably results.

October 11, 2006

The Greater Evil

Earlier today I had a visit with the lay minister of the local Catholic Church. I enjoy talking to him as with his previous career as a lawyer he easily grasps the legal context of what is going on. Today we had a long debate about Justice Scalia’s recent opinion in Marsh v. Kansas, in which Scalia took the position that the claims of the innocent people being wrongfully condemned to death is overblown – that there are very few truly innocent people convicted as the system works. And that although the system is not perfect, the few mistakes are acceptable in the interest of the greater good.

Yeah __ I’ll bet he’d have a totally different opinion if he was the one wrongfully convicted and had to deal with a court system that increasingly erects procedural rules to prevent the claims of innocence from even being heard.

It is because of people like Justice Scalia that I’ve come to despise the Right Wing Conservative Movement. They live in their own small world where they never have to worry about becoming a victim of the very practices they advocate and then say that those who do fall victim to the system they’ve created are an acceptable collateral consequence for the greater good of accomplishing their own agenda. But just where does one draw the line as to what is considered “acceptable?” How many must be sacrificed before they can find it intolerable?

People like Scalia are so far removed from the reality of the world that they incapable of empathizing with those who do fall victim. To me, that’s the greater evil that exists today – that absence of moral conscience that allows those who do support such a system to see even the few wrongfully convicted as an acceptable sacrifice for their own greater good. And as they dare preach morality, they refuse to see why it’s morally wrong to allow such a system to exist without at least trying to prevent the injustices that do exist.

One must ask, at what point does a presumably civilized society become compromised by the cancer we allow to exist not out of necessity, but out of political will? Sure, there are a relatively small number of monsters out there that perhaps nothing less than killing would protect society from – but those true “monsters” only rarely get the death penalty. The reality of it is that the overwhelming majority of people condemned to death, get death, not because of the particular nature of there crime, but because of their inability to defend against the formidable resources of the state. It’s those unfortunate enough to get represented by incompetent lawyers typically appointed by the court.

~Attribution~Daryl Cagle, MSNBC.com

October 10, 2006

Southern Injustice: Condemning an Innocent Man

In February 1983 as the rural farming community of LaBelle, Florida prepared to celebrate its annual “Swamp Cabbage Festival” the top story around town was that a local 19-year old waitress recently reported missing. Aleisha Bryant was last seen with a man, known only as “Chip”, that past Sunday night at a rowdy bar just outside of town.

Initially the investigation revealed that Chip had come to town under a fictitious name Lawrence Lamberson, and was in fact really Clarence Edward Moore, a 35-year old “career criminal” from Miami with a propensity for violence against women and a known associate of south Florida drug smugglers. Chip could not be located either.

On February 9th, 1983 Chip’s car was located near Tampa being driven by Francis Smith, who when asked about the car told police it belonged to her boyfriend but she couldn’t remember his name. Smith was arrested and the car was impounded. Smith remained in custody for several days and gave numerous conflicting stories before being bonded out. The following week Smith, accompanied by her own lawyer, went to the states attorney’s office to “voluntarily” report a double murder.

Smith told how a few months earlier around Christmas she had abruptly abandoned her three young children and ran away with Mike Lambrix. Traveling together to LaBelle, they took up residence on a ranch in nearby Glades County, where they lived under the name “Townsend” as Lambrix had recently walked away from a minimum security work release center where he was serving a sentence for passing a worthless check – Lambrix’s only prior conviction.

On February 5th Lambrix and Smith went to the “Town Tavern” in LaBelle, where the met Chip and Bryant. The four then traveled together to “Squeaky’s”, where they drank and danced until the bar closed. They all agreed to go back to Lambrix’s place for a late night dinner as Bryant had to be at work in a few hours and Chip was leaving town.

Smith claimed that after arriving at the trailer she began cooking a spaghetti dinner while Lambrix, Chip, and Bryant sat in the adjacent living room. Smith later testified that they were all “laughing, teasing and playing around” when Lambrix and Chip decided to go outside. About 20 minutes later Lambrix returned looking “normal” and told Bryant that Chip wanted her to come outside. Smith stayed in the trailer cooking. About 45 minutes later Lambrix again returned alone – but this time was “covered in blood” and told Smith that “they’re dead.”

According to Smith, she followed Lambrix into the bathroom and as he washed up she asked what happened, Lambrix refused to talk about it. They went to a store to purchase a flashlight and shovel. After returning to the trailer Smith claims Lambrix forced her to help bury the two bodies before fleeing the area together in Chip’s car.

Smith was given a polygraph, which showed “significant signs of deception” yet based exclusively on her account a warrant charging Lambrix with capital premeditated murder was issued and a statewide “manhunt” ensued. Lambrix was apprehended several weeks later in Orlando, Florida.

Lambrix was almost immediately transferred to the small two-cell Glades County Jail in Moore Haven, Florida and a local inexperienced public defender was assigned to represent him. Motions were filed to have the case moved to another county because of graphically sensationalized stories in the local weekly paper; they were summarily denied. By December 1983 the case was brought to trial at the small courthouse in Moore Haven with Judge Adams presiding.

In opening arguments the state prosecutor Randall McGruther conceded that there were no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions to support his theory of alleged premeditated murder. The entire case was founded upon Francis Smith’s testimony that after meeting Chip and Bryant, Lambrix invited them back to the trailer, then took Chip out first – returning alone – then took Bryant out again subsequently returning alone, only this time covered in blood. Smith testified that Lambrix told her he hit the man in the head and choked Bryant, and then placed her face down in a pond to ensure she died. The alleged motive was to steal the car.

This otherwise unsupported theory of alleged premeditated murder was corroborated by state witness Deborah Hanzel, (The girlfriend of Smith’s own cousin) who testified that Lambrix also told her that he committed the murders to steal the car, and by Robert Daniels, a local states attorney’s investigator who was responsible for developing the circumstantial evidence used to support Smith’s story.

No defense was presented and Lambrix’s own lawyer compelled the trial judge to prohibit Lambrix from personally testifying even though Lambrix was the only one who could have told the jury what really happened outside.

Instead, Lambrix’s attorney argued that substantial reasonable doubt existed as the states theory of alleged premeditated murder directly conflicted with the evidence. Smith admitted that she never witnessed anything that might have occurred outside. The state’s own medical examiner confirmed that there was no actual evidence that Bryant died of strangulation or drowning – in fact there was no pond on the property.

Further, Chip was the only one who suffered any physical injuries that would have resulted in the loss of blood. Thus Chip had to still be alive when Bryant went outside, so whatever actually transpired outside had to happen spontaneously, without premeditated intent. Additionally, all of Chip’s wounds were to his front forehead so Chip had to be facing his combatant and the absence of any defense wounds strongly suggest Chip had to have been the aggressor.

Both Chip and Bryant each substantially outweighed lambrix, so how could he have simultaneously killed both in two completely different ways? Would a healthy 19-year old woman passively allow herself to be strangled without struggling? Smith admitted Lambrix had no scratches or bruises on him – yet the autopsy on Chip revealed numerous scratches on his abdomen. Fingernail scrapings that might have conclusively identified Bryant’s true assailant conveniently disappeared.

Last, Smith told numerous conflicting accounts before coming up with the one that propitiously exonerated her of all culpability. Collectively, counsel argued substantial reasonable doubt existed precluding a finding of guilt.

Without any local facilities available to sequester the jury the deliberations dragged on over eleven hours into the early morning without food or necessary medicine. Finally, the jury announced it could not agree on any verdict and over Lambrix’s objection a “hung jury” was declared.

After the state announced its intentions to retry the case, Lambrix’s counsel renewed the motions to have the case moved to another county; this was denied. In February 19984 the retrial began after Lambrix refused a second-degree murder plea, which would have resulted in a maximum sentence of 22 to 27 years.

The original was abruptly and inexplicitly replaced by Judge Richard Stanley, a former local prosecutor with a reputation for bias against capital defendants. Ultimately, the jury empanelled to retry the case included the jury foreman (Snyder) who admitted he already believed Lambrix was guilty as well as four other jurors directly related to the local sheriff’s department including the stepfather (Wilburn) of a local sheriff deputy who at the time of trial was under an FBI investigation for physically assaulting Lambrix several months earlier.

As the state presented its same case for the second time, Judge Stanley prohibited Lambrix’s attorneys from cross-examining the key witness Francis Smith about the numerous conflicting stories she had told or the polygraph examination. Judge Stanley felt this might “confuse” the jury. Lambrix was again prohibited from testifying. Once again Deborah Hanzel and investigator Robert Daniels corroborated Smith’s testimony.

Lambrix’s attorney presented no defense beyond arguing reasonable doubt. This time the jury deliberated barely an hour before returning with a verdict of guilty on each count of capital murder. Following a brief sentencing phase, the jury then recommended by a majority vote “death” be imposed on both counts.

On March 22, 1984 Lambrix was formally sentenced to death. Judge Stanley refused to recognize any mitigating circumstances even though the undisputed evidence established that Lambrix was honorably discharged for the Army following a disabling duty related accident, was a former Boy Scout and Catholic alter boy, as well as a father of three young children, with no significant prior criminal history.

Since March 1984 Lambrix has remained in solitary confinement on Florida’s death row, never once wavering in his insistence that the entire case of alleged premeditated murder brought against him was deliberately fabricated.

Although prohibited from testifying at trial, Lambrix’s stead fast claim of what actually took place outside that night is in fact entirely consistent with the evidence. Perhaps the hardest thing to defend against is a deliberately fabricated lie, especially when it is supported by the state.

Lambrix readily admits to meeting Chip and Bryant that night and inviting them back to his home. After arriving at the trailer they continued to drink. Both unquestionably intoxicated, Chip and Lambrix went outside, where, in their drunken stupor they concocted a plan to play a practical joke on the tow women. As Chip hid behind a nearby cattle trough, Lambrix went inside the trailer and told Smith and Bryant they wanted to show them something outside. Smith was still cooking dinner, so only Bryant followed him outside.

As the two approached the feed trough Chip suddenly jumped out successfully startling Bryant as planned…but Bryant unrepentantly responded with anger, verbally confronting Chip. Unaware of Chip’s history of violence against women Lambrix left the two alone to work it out, walking back towards the trailer.

Just as Lambrix reached the trailer he heard a scream and knowing the closes neighbor was some distance away he knew it had to be them. Then came another scream; Lambrix began going back around the trailer towards the pasture. Assuming they must have run into a wild animal or something, Lambrix intuitively grabbed the jack handle from a car as he passed it; the jack was out from work done earlier in the day.

Upon reaching the trough Lambrix realized that Chip and Bryant were not where he had left them, it was a cloudy night with minimal moonlight, which made it difficult to see more than a few feet but he heard something back in the pasture and moved in that direction.

Suddenly Lambrix walked up on them -- Chip had Bryant pinned to the ground on her back with him straddled over her, violently assaulting her. Lambrix ordered Chip to let her go only to be pugnaciously told to mind his own business, Lambrix forcibly pushed Chip off Bryant but as he fell to far side Chip immediately lunged back toward Lambrix and as he did Lambrix instinctively swung the tire iron repeatedly until realizing that Chip was down.

Assuming Bryant was only unconscious, Lambrix attempted to carry her back to the trailer, but she significantly out weighted him, forcing Lambrix to lay her down. At that time Lambrix attempted to resuscitate her – to no avail. Realizing then that she was dead Lambrix returned to Chip but he was beyond help too, as his head was crushed from the blows.

Lambrix returned to the trailer covered in blood and told Smith they were dead, then went to the bathroom and vomited before washing up. Both Lambrix and Smith then went to a store to obtain a flashlight and shovel and in route Lambrix reluctantly told Smith that Chip had “gone nuts” on Bryant and as he tried to stop him, Chip turned on him. Knowing that Lambrix had an arrest warrant for leaving the work release they both agreed they couldn’t go to the sheriff and that they would superficially conceal the two bodies then abandon Chips car near Tampa – which Smith was supposedly doing when she was arrested.

After being sentenced to death Lambrix was assigned a local attorney whop had no experience litigating capital appeals – and made no attempt to even meet with Lambrix. Without addressing the sufficiency of the specious circumstantial evidence, the deprivation of Lambrix’s “fundamental” right to testify. Or the composition of the jury, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously affirmed both the convictions and sentences of death.

In September 1988 a “death warrant” was signed, scheduling Lambrix’s execution for November 30th, 1988. Only then was post conviction counsel assigned – but at the last moment this counsel argued that it was “impossible’ to investigate and present Lambrix’s claims – including actual innocence – because the sate funded agency did not have adequate resources or staff.

In a cursory order the trial court summarily denied the request for any additional time and as Lambrix was measured for the suit they intended to kill him in and ordered his last meal, by a marginal four to three vote the Florida Supreme Court also denied relief. However, the court did grant a 48-hour temporary stay of execution to allow an appeal to the federal court and as Lambrix again came within hours of execution the federal court finally granted a full stay.

In August 1991 the Federal District Court provided an evidentiary hearing on the limited issues that were actually raised in the state courts. At that time both former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Alan Sundberg and nationally renowned criminal defense attorney Ray Black testified in Lambrix’s behalf, that the legal representation Lambrix was provided at both trial and on appeal was pathetically incompetent.

In May 1992 the Federal District Court denied relief in an order that was subsequently affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The United States Supreme Court then granted limited review but by a five to four vote ruled that although Lambrix was unconstitutionally sentenced to death, because his lawyers has failed to properly present the claim, any relief was procedurally barred.

As these federal appeals were pending Lambrix’s lawyers also filed a new appeal in the state courts arguing that Lambrix must be allowed to present his claim of actual innocence, which prior counsel failed to raise as the “fundamental miscarriage of justice” doctrine requires an exemption of statutory procedural bars.

However, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that previously appointed counsels’ failure to timely raise the claims could not establish “cause” for exemption of procedural time limitations as Lambrix had no constitutional right to post conviction counsel so such counsel cannot legally be “ineffective.” The court made no attempt to address Lambrix’s comprehensively pled claim of actual innocence.

In 1996 Lambrix lost both his state and federal appeals – Congress abruptly eliminated the funding for the agency responsible for representing him, so Lambrix suddenly found himself without a lawyer. Once again facing an imminent “death warrant” Lambrix petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for appointment of new counsel, and his case was assigned to a state funded agency chronically plagued by inadequate funding and insufficient staff.

As Lambrix mentally prepared to be moved back to “death watch” new evidence came to light regarding Lambrix’s trial judge in another capital case. In that case, after the court personally came forth hours before Raleigh Porter was to be executed Judge Stanley was compelled to testify that he had become a judge to avenge his colleagues murder, and that if it was up to him, he would have shot capital defendants “dead between the eyes.” Based on this evidence, the Florida Supreme Court threw out Porter’s death sentences because of Judge Stanley’s pervasive bias against capital defendants.

Arguing that Lambrix must be provided similar relief – Lambrix is now the only person still remaining under sentence of death imposed by Judge Stanley – the new lawyers filed an appeal that prevented a new death warrant from being signed.

Lambrix’s lawyers then sought out state witness Deborah Hanzel to clarify an ambiguity in the original trial record. To their surprise Hanzel volunteered that her trial testimony was not true – that Lambrix never did actually tell her that he had killed anyone. Asked why she didn’t come forward with this crucial information earlier, Hanzel replied that she thought Lambrix had been executed.

Almost five years later Lambrix was finally granted an evidentiary hearing on this newly discovered evidence. At that time Hanzel provided more information – that she was deliberately coerced into providing that false testimony by the key witness Francis Smith and an investigator with the States Attorney’s Office. They had known all along that Lambrix has acted in involuntary self-defense.

Several months later another hearing was held and for the first time Lambrix was allowed to testify about what really happened that night. The state did not and could not discredit Lambrix’s claim of “involuntary self-defense.”

The state then called their key witness Francis Smith (now Francis Ottinger) to deny that she coerced Hanzel to provide false testimony. However, Smith was not aware that only days earlier her recently divorced husband has provided Lambrix’s lawyers with starting new information – that while Lambrix was being prosecuted on these capital charges, Smith was having a secret relationship “of a sexual nature” with the State Attorney’s own investigator, Robert Daniels – the very person who has sworn out the affidavit initiating these charges against Lambrix, then was responsible for developing the circumstantial evidence used to corroborate Smith’s story.
As Smith took the stand she predictably denied coercing Hanzel to provide false testimony – then Lambrix’s lawyers asked Smith if it was true that she was having a sexual relationship with investigator Daniels while Lambrix was being prosecuted. At first, perjuring herself she denied any relationship, but then reluctantly admitted it.

Lambrix’s claims of actual innocence have been pending before Judge R. Thomas Corbin of the Lee County Circuit Court in Ft. Myers, Florida for almost nine years now. Although hearings have been sporadically provided each has been deliberately limited to only a small part of the available evidence, which collectively proves Lambrix’s actual innocence. Every element of the states case is now exposed as being deliberately fabricated with an intent to have Lambrix wrongfully convicted, the local court and states attorney’s office have joined forces to obstruct public exposure of this inconceivable injustice by simply not allowing the case to proceed to a finality.

Recently at a July 2006 hearing the state offered to reduce Lambrix’s sentences to “life” if Lambrix would drop these actual innocence appeals – an offer Lambrix “categorically refused.” The case remains pending. Justice delayed is justice denied. If you would like to help end this injustice you can write to Judge Corbin encouraging him to expeditiously reach a final decision at the following addresses:

Judge R. Thomas Corbin
Lee County Justice Center
1700 Monroe Street
Ft. Myers, FL 33901