March 02, 2007

~Anatomy of a Corrupt Florida Prosecutor~

It’s a simple enough truth… when you play in the mud; you’re going to get dirty. This truth is especially applicable in the shadowy and often corrupt world of politics. Where money buys influence and favors at a relatively cheap price. Anyone with even minimal political acumen knows how to play the game – when a candidate is running for an elected office that campaign is financed by monetary contributions from those who want that particular individual elected. After they win that particular elected office, the unspoken doctrine of quid pro quo comes into effect… I scratched your back, now you scratch mine. When that same candidate --even elected judges and state attorneys – run for office numerous times with the same contributors consistently funding that campaign, then an obvious bond is forged.

If we truly value the concept that “justice is blind” then the marriage of politics and justice is a contemptuous abomination – an entity of evil that can only and ultimately bear evil fruit. However, in Florida each judicial circuit elects its top state attorney and circuit court judges locally. Thus, each time the same candidate runs for the same “office” they become inherently dependent upon the continuing support of local contributors. Thus, at least theoretically, of course, if a person wanted to corrupt locally elected state attorneys and judges to protect against any prosecution in the future, then they could simply become a generous campaign contributor – and call in the favor when trouble does inevitably arise. That’s how American democracy works – that’s the American way.

The Bible teaches us that “money is the root of all evil” and this truth is especially applicable in the shadowy and corrupt world of politics. Consider the case of the elected State Attorney Steve Russell in the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida. Steve Russell has worked in that circuit for over 30 years, since graduating from Stetson University and passing the Florida Bar. When previously long-time elected State Attorney Joseph D’Alessandro retired, Russell ran for that job and took office in 2003.

During the 30 years that Steve Russell has worked in the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office (much of the time serving as the top prosecutor), although relatively small and comprised mostly of the rural farming communities of Southwest Florida, that office has established a record of having the highest number of wrongful convictions in capital cases in the entire country. Incredibly, just this one office has sent more innocent men to death row (subsequently released by the courts) than most other entire states, combined.

Steve Russell’s long-time personal friend and Stetson Law School alumnus Randall McGruther has worked alongside Russell for almost 30 years himself. But then a few years ago McGruther screwed up and attempted to go into private practice (which obviously pays more) only to shortly thereafter find himself under investigation for unethical misconduct after a witness in a criminal case alleged that Randy McGruther had attempted to coerce him into signing a false affidavit. Apparently, McGruther didn’t realize that although as a prosecutor he could get away with that, as a private lawyer he is not as protected. See, Prosecutorial Misconduct: Does Immunity Invite Injustice?

Shortly after these allegations were publicly disclosed, his long time good buddy, Steve Russell, by then the elected State Attorney, abruptly called McGruther back into the flock (birds of a feather…), and even appointed McGruther as his new Chief Assistant State Attorney, making McGruther the top prosecutor in the office! Not surprisingly, shortly after this appointment the allegations of misconduct previously lodged against Randall McGruther conveniently disappeared.

Does that sound just a bit fishy? But it actually only gets better, as a search of public records shows that in recent years McGruther has personally contributed thousands of dollars to Steve Russell’s campaigns… quid pro quo, baby! In fact, these public records show that McGruther has personally contributed well over $4,000 in recent years, with these substantial monetary contributions being made by McGruther while he was going through a contentious divorce and facing allegations of professional misconduct… and all on the salary of a public servant?

Although most of that money went to Steve Russell’s political campaigns, public records also show that McGruther contributed to the campaigns of numerous locally elected Circuit Court Judges, which raises substantial questions of conflict of interest. Money buys influence and in the political world there is no such thing as a free favor. So why was McGruther contributing money to the campaigns of locally elected judges that he knew he would argue cases in front of? If you were a criminal defendant being tried before a judge who was elected to that bench by monetary contributions made by the prosecutor, do you think you’d get a fair trial?

These facts are a matter of public record and cannot be denied. But this is not the end of the story. In 2006 the Florida Supreme Court threw out the capital convictions and death sentences against John Ballard, ordering his immediate release from death row upon the finding that Randall McGruther’s prosecution against Ballard was unfounded… that no credible evidence existed to support the convictions. See, Ballard v. State, 923 So. 2d 475 (Fla. 2006).

This Ballard case is an example of numerous other wholly circumstantial cases prosecuted by the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office that subsequently resulted in the appellate courts throwing the convictions out upon find that no sufficient evidence existed to support the convictions. (I.E. Delbert Tibbs, James Richardson, Bradley Scott, John Landry, john Ballard, etc.) Each of these cases was based upon specious -- and arguably fabricated – circumstantial evidence in which the person was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death only to be exonerated and released from death row by the Appellate Courts.

In another wholly circumstantial case prosecuted personally by Randall McGruther almost 24 years ago, newly discovered evidence has now come to light that shows that the State Attorney’s Office knowingly collaborated and conspired with a key witness to deliberately convict and condemn Michael Lambrix to death for a capital crime they knew he was innocent of.

In that case, Lambrix was charged with a double murder in a locally sensationalized case in Glades County, Florida in early 1983. There were no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions. The entire case was built upon the testimony of Lambrix’s estranged ex-girlfriend’s testimony, who conveniently claimed that Lambrix told her he committed these murders, but only after she was charged with a another crime herself.

Lambrix pled not guilty and has consistently maintained his innocence. At trial the jury was not allowed to hear that this witness, Frances Smith-Ottinger, had actually told law enforcement officials numerous conflicting stories and had even failed a state administered polygraph test. Additionally, Lambrix was prohibited from personally testifying and virtually no defense was presented. Lambrix was convicted and condemned to death and has remained on Florida’s death row since March 1984. For a complete account of this case, please read, Southern Injustice: Condemning An Innocent Man

In recent years another witness has come forth stating that she was coerced into falsely testifying, Lambrix admitted killing the deceased, at trial by both the key witness and the state attorney’s lead investigator. An investigation into these allegations then revealed that at the same time Lambrix was prosecuted in this capital case, the key witness was engaged in a secret, illicit affair “of a sexual nature” with the State Attorney’s investigator, Robert Daniels – the very person who had sworn out the affidavit initiating the charges against Lambrix, then this same investigator personally supervised the development of the specious circumstantial evidence presented at trial.

Additionally Investigations revealed that the very evidence McGruther presented to the jury to convince them of Lambrix’s guilt was fabricated – and that McGruther knew this evidence was fabricated. More recently evidence has come to light that contrary to the key witness’ testimony at trial, she was given complete immunity from prosecution in exchange for her “cooperation” – all other charges against her were dropped shortly after Lambrix was convicted and condemned to death.

After almost 20 years of methodically stalking Lambrix’s wrongful execution, in 2004 McGruther was disqualified from the case due to the allegations of misconduct. However, no action has been taken against him – and under the protection of elected State Attorney Steve Russell, McGruther remains the top prosecutor in that Circuit.

Incredibly, McGruther now has bigger plans. With the history of alleged misconduct preventing McGruther from running for any publicly elected office, Randy McGruther is now posturing himself for political appointment to the bench. Public records reveal that McGruther became a substantial contributor to the most recent gubernatorial campaign of now governor “Chaingang Charlie” Crist. Once again, McGruther is spending money to manipulate the system. If Randall McGruther is successful in being appointed to the State Appellate Court bench by now Governor Crist, because of McGruther’s substantial contributions to his campaign, then with McGruther politically appointed for “life” without ever having to publicly campaign – his history of unethical misconduct will never have to be publicly debated.

All of these facts are a matter of public record and can easily be confirmed. The questions now is whether the public should allow someone like Randy McGruther to so brazenly manipulate the system to his advantage – do we really want someone like McGruther appointed to this bench for life?

If you have any information about prosecutorial misconduct in cases in the 20th Judicial Circuit (Southwest Florida) especially involving elected state Attorney Steve Russell, Chief Deputy Assistant Randall McGruther, or Assistant Attorney Cynthia Ross please contact us at or Southern Injustice PO Box 184, Wickliffe, OH 44092-0184.

I would encourage you to fully read the Southern Injustice website and blogs found at and contact both Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Florida Attorney General Bill McCullom imploring them to initiate an independent investigation into corruption within the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office at the below phone numbers and email addresses:

Governor Charlie Crist

Executive Office of the Governor
400 S. Monroe Street, The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001


Bill McCullom

Office of Attorney General
The Capitol PL-01
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050