April 15, 2007

Supreme Court Reviews Southern Injustice

With corruption and injustice within the judicial system becoming increasingly exposed through unconventional media sources, those want to seek out the truth are increasingly turning to the Internet to get the story. Those already familiar with this blog know of “southerninjustice.com,” a website dedicated to exposing the new face of bigotry and injustice in the south. Southern Injustice especially details the corruption within the 20th Circuit State Attorney’s Office of Southwest Florida, as although relatively small in size this one particular office presently has the highest rate of wrongful convictions in capital cases in the entire country.

Southern Injustice’s efforts to expose the corruption with this particular judicial circuit has only been going for about six months now, but has already drawn in thousands of supporters. Among the repeat visitors to this site is the Florida Supreme Court, which according to “Google Analytics” recently spent three days downloading content relating to information based upon public records regarding the 20th Circuit’s State Attorney’s Office. See, the evidence of these visits here.

Why would the Florida Supreme Court suddenly develop an interest in Southern Injustice and its content? Recently both the Miami Herald and the Ft Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel exposed a dirty, dark secret going on in the courts of South Florida when it was discovered that the state circuit courts in Broward and Dade Counties have been secretly working with prosecutors to fabricate false records to illegally protect “jailhouse snitches” and others. See, “Florida Courts Caught Fabricating Records.”

In Florida, as in most states, it is against the law to conceal court records unless the records are sealed by specific court order upon a showing of cause. The intent of the law is obvious – if court records are not open and available to the public, then public confidence can easily be undermined by projecting an appearance of something to hide. In America, our courts are constitutionally obligated to administer justice openly, not in dark rooms behind closed doors; they are also ethically mandated to be free from even any appearance of impropriety.

According to the investigative reports in the Miami Herald and Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the Broward and Dade County Courts deliberately fabricated records made available to the public while concealing the actual records. After this alleged misconduct was publicly exposed the matter was brought to the attention of the Florida Supreme Court. Immediately chief Justice Lewis promised a full investigation.

Southern Injustice has filed a formal complaint with the Florida Supreme Court concerning court records in the 20th Judicial Circuit. Although circuit court records are computerized or physically available at each county’s courthouse, the records in the capital case of Cary Michael Lambrix are not. Lambrix was tried, convicted, and condemned to death in rural Glades County, Florida in early 1984. When the Clerk of Court in Glades County was contacted, Southern Injustice was advised that all records are kept in Lee County (Ft. Myers). However, the clerk of the Court in Lee County claims that although the records are in Lee County, they do not know where. Both counties use a computerized docketing system, but neither could explain why the current Lambrix case files were not on their computerized system and were not accessible to the public. While they were both aware he had been convicted and condemned to death, they assured Southern Injustice that nothing had been filed on this case since 1992.

Why would the current court records in the Lambrix case be illegally concealed from the public? To understand the motivations of those who do not want these records readily accessible, a brief history of this case helps. The case brought against Lambrix over 24 years ago was wholly circumstantial – there were no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions. As the local prosecutor Randall McGruther conceded to the jury the entire case was built upon the testimony of Lambrix’s then recently estranged ex-girlfriend Frances Smith (now Frances Ottinger) who conveniently claimed Lambrix had told her he committed this brutal double murder only after she was herself arrested and in unrelated felonies.

Lambrix adamantly insisted that he was innocent and that the state and key witness Smith deliberately fabricated the specious, wholly circumstantial theory of premeditated murder. The jury was not allowed to hear that she actually told the police numerous stories before coming up with the one that conveniently won her immunity from any prosecution. Nor was the jury allowed to know that she failed a state administered polygraph prior to trial. In fact the jury was led to believe that she was not given any deal for her testimony and let her get away with saying under oath she wasn’t given anything for her cooperation. Then Lambrix himself was prohibited from personally testifying, leaving her testimony unchallenged. See, “Southern Injustice: Condemning An Innocent Man” Lambrix was convicted and condemned to death and has been on death row now since March 1984.

Throughout these many years Lambrix has remained on death row even coming within hours of actual execution – but still adamantly insisting on his innocence, steadfastly claiming the circumstantial case was deliberately fabricated.

Then on 1998 the only other witness who corroborated key witness Smith’s claim that Lambrix admitted committing these murders stepped forward and admitted under oath her testimony claiming Lambrix told her he had committed this crime was not true. See, “Woman Recants Testimony.”

Hearings were subsequently held at which time this witness testified that both key witness Smith and the State’s investigator coerced her to provide that false testimony against Lambrix. When Lambrix’s own lawyers then looked into these claims, even more evidence was revealed – key witness Smith was actually having a secret affair with the local state attorney’s lead investigator, Robert Daniels, while Lambrix was prosecuted. See, “Witness Admits Affair.”

In fact, records show that investigator Daniels was the very person who swore out the affidavit leading to Lambrix’s arrest, then personally supervised the development of the specious circumstantial evidence used to corroborate key witness Smith’s own testimony. Of course, the jury was not aware of this intimate relationship between the key witness and Investigator Daniels.

As the evidence substantiating Lambrix’s long pled claim of innocence began to accumulate, a funny thing happened – inexplicitly, all the court files in this case were suddenly transferred from Glades County to Lee County (Ft. Myers) and public access prohibited. Could the Florida Supreme Court now be looking into this illegal concealment of public court records? But why would Circuit Court Judge R. Thomas Corbin, who has presided over this case since 1998, remove the files of a capital case and effectively prohibit public access?

To address that question we must go back to the fact that this judicial circuit presently has the highest rate of wrongful convictions in capital cases in the entire country. The prosecutor, Randall McGruther who put Lambrix on death row has a significant history of alleged misconduct that includes sending at least one other subsequently exonerated man to death row. McGruther is now the Chief Assistant State Attorney in that judicial circuit.

In recent months Southern Injustice has investigated Lambrix’s case and obtained public records relevant to that state attorney’s office that exposes a troubling truth. Quite simply, this 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office has been, and continues to be, controlled by an inner circle of college classmates and alumni of Florida’s Stetson University… it’s a virtual Southern style “good ole boys” club of college buddies who consistently cover for each other to avoid exposure of alleged and apparently systemic prosecutorial misconduct. See, “Anatomy of a Corrupt Prosecutor.”

But this apparent corruption reaches beyond the local state attorney’s office as review of public records show that this Stetson “good ole boy’s club” also controls the local circuit courts. Again, when looking into the Lambrix case Southern Injustice discovered that although the case is assigned to Circuit Court Judge R. Thomas Corbin, it is actually managed by Senior Staff Attorney Steven A, Hooper and supervised by the Chief Administrative Judge Hugh Cary --both of whom are closely connected to The prosecuotr on Lambrix's case either through having gone to Stetson University Law School or who were originally recruited by and worked with the prosecutor Randall McGruther and elected State Attorney Steve Russell. See, our connection chart here.

As if this was not enough, further review of court records revealed that the Senior Staff Attorney Stephen A. Hooper now controlling this case in Judge Corbin’s Court was previously assigned to Circuit Court Judge Thomas Reese in 1994 when Judge Reese presided over Lambrix’s earlier post conviction appeal arguing his actual innocence, which was “procedurally barred” from review upon the pled merits… apparently, Stephen Hooper’s job is to make sure the Lambrix case is not heard.

Unable to credibly dispute Lambrix’s now substantiated claim of innocence, those responsible for perpetuating this deliberate injustice against Lambrix are now obstructing timely review of Lambrix’s “actual innocence” appeal, which has now been pending before the lower state court for over 9 years. See, “Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied.”

Lambrix has recently filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court (Lambrix v. Florida, case #06-9634) in which Lambrix argues that the failure to provide timely review of his pled claim or actual innocence in the lower state court violates his constitutional right to meaningful post conviction appellate review, entitling him to have his convictions automatically vacated. The petition can be read in its entirety here. Also see, Does the Supreme Court Suborn Perjury in Capital Cases?

But with the undisputable influence of the local state attorney’s office corrupting any chance of receiving full and fair review of Lambrix’s pled claim of actual innocence before the lower court, how can there be any hope that justice will prevail in this case? Lambrix has already attempted to compel the Florida Supreme Court to intervene, but they refused to address the petition until after the circuit court’s review.

What this Lambrix case is increasingly exposing is a corruption not simply of a single capital case, but of an entire judicial circuit. Southern Injustice has received letters from numerous other prisoners presently incarcerated after being convicted of crimes within the 20th Judicial Circuit and a pattern of “win by any means necessary” prosecutorial misconduct is indisputably emerging.

Could it be as this corruption is finally now being publicly exposed the Florida Supreme Court is beginning to take notice? Do we dare hope that a formal investigation of the 20th Judicial Circuit’s Stetson University “good ole boy club” may finally be imminent? If you haven’t already read the website www.southerninjustice.com, you should now do so now… has justice in the Deep South really changed?