Our Dear Friend Mike Lambrix left us on October 5, 2017
He went from the Darkness to the Light..

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thanksgiving with Henry

Thanksgiving is the traditional American Holiday, the one day of the year when family and friends gather around the table with a feast laid out in abundance and give thanks for the blessings that have been and might yet be endowed upon us. Up until just a few years ago the prison system would recognize Thanksgiving with a special holiday meal of real turkey and all the trimmings, as well as various tasty deserts and we would all look forward to that one meal a year. Weeks and even months ahead of time we would make deals with each other to trade a favorite food such as maybe trade the turkey to someone for their pumpkin pie. Everybody had their favorite food, for me it was the turkey more than anything else. 


But in recent years they’ve all but eliminated the traditional Thanksgiving dinner for prisoners. We haven’t seen real turkey in many years now. The prison system will tell you that they still serve us a “holiday meal” but it’s not like it was before and what they do serve now isn’t worth writing home about.

For this reason many of us will plan ahead and make our own holiday feast by saving up what few extra dollars we can and buy foods off the canteen. Both as a means of communion with those we live among, who have become our surrogate family, and to share costs of the purchases. Many of us will plan ahead with our cell neighbors as we must order the necessary items at least a week ahead of the time on order to get them on time.

This year me and Henry decided we would eat good. Henry’s been my cell neighbor for a few years now, and was my neighbor on another wing before that. But for awhile now Henry has been fighting liver cancer. He’s put up a pretty good fight, which is not a surprise as Henry is a natural fighter and never had an easy life. Born in Texas of Mexican descent, he grew up poor and gave in to the lure of an outlaw at a very young age. Through the years Henry did time in some of the worst state and federal prisons in the country back when doing time meant struggling to survive every day. Yet through these hard years Henry remained one hell of a man, and was quick to share his sense of humor and in all the years I’ve known him, not even once did he have a harsh word to say about anyone.

Neither me nor Henry had any reason to expect a visit over the Holiday weekend. Although we both come from large families, through the years our families slowly drifted away and that’s just how it is, and we accept that. So, when it came to planning our Thanksgiving Holiday each of us became the others “family” and we spent countless hours what we would make to have a holiday meal that was different and special.

Last week and the week before we got the packs of tuna and mackerel to make fish steaks, the Ramen soup so we would use the noodles a make a casserole, with more tuna and assorted packs of potato chips for flavor, with a dill pickle on the side. And that was just for the main course.

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a lot of sweets. In past years I would make up a big batch of chocolate treats for everyone on the floor. But between the elimination of many items necessary to make them and substantial increases in the prices of what is now sold, it just is no longer possible. So we pitched in together and bought a Hershey chocolate bar for everyone on the floor so that everyone would at least have a little something.

With meticulous details we planned our meal. In a lot of ways, planning out what we intended to eat was almost as good as the eating itself! First, as an appetizer we would share a box of Ritz crackers, with beef and Jalapeno cheese sticks to go with them. We planned to start at around 10 o’clock that morning, and then around noon we would make up the main course. It would take me a few hours to make the fish steaks, which were a lot like crab cakes, but made with a mixture of tuna fish and mackerel steaks, mixed with crushed Ritz crackers and then seasoned with the spice pack of the Ramen “spicy vegetable soup” and a packet of soy sauce, and a bag of crushed spicy potato chips for flavor. Then coated with a crushed Ritz cracker crust. We would each have two.

The tuna casserole was basically flavored Ramen noodles mixed with tuna fish, a lot of mayonnaise and sweet relish and poured over crushed sour cream onion potato chips, with generous slices of dill pickles.

After having the main course, we planned to each have a Bear-claw pastry for dessert, with a cup of hot chocolate. Although we can only purchase the small envelopes of hot chocolate of the canteen, by adding some coffee creamer and a Hershey chocolate bar, it made a cup of thick hot chocolate which goes really good with the cinnamon and spice bear-claw pastry.


Later in the day we planned for some more sweets and snacks as football would be on TV all day – another Thanksgiving tradition. We had bought a box of Swiss rolls – basically small chocolate covered, crème filled cakes, and we’d make up some big cups of sweet tea to go with it. For later in the day we planned to use up the last big bag of Doritos Nacho Cheese chips I still had, pouring two packs of hot chili with beans over it, then topping it off with numerous packs of melted Jalapeno cheese spread – you just can’t put too much Jalapeno cheese on anything!

Yep, me and Henry planned to eat pretty good this Thanksgiving. Although holidays are meant to spend with family, in here it’s the guys we live around that become our family and we looked forward to sharing it together.

This year Thanksgiving would be on Thursday, November 26. Every year it’s on the last Thursday of November. But for all our meticulous plans it’s always the unexpected that comes along to ruin them.

On Monday our floor had recreation yard and Henry went outside to play volleyball for a few hours. With his health problems, yard usually left him exhausted but he would sleep it off and be ready to go again. Monday was not different and by early afternoon Henry was joking around, as we often do. By dinner he was his usual self, and then we had the thrice weekly showers (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

After showers the mail comes in and we talked a bit about that it was late on Monday as the guard who normally passes out the mail has the week off. So we didn’t get our mail until around 8.00 PM. Henry said he got one letter, but was concerned as he didn’t hear from his longtime dear friend Liz. I told him that they probably just didn’t pass out all the mail – he’d probably get a letter from her tomorrow.

About an hour later they came around for the nightly “master count” That’s the only time of the day we must each stand up and give our number – not our name, but only our prisoner number as in here that’s all we are – a number. Henry’s cell light was on and he said he was going to write a letter. But when the Sgt got to his cell he found Henry slumped over his table and the end of his bunk and Henry was not responsive. For a few minutes they yelled and banged on his door, assuming he was asleep as that was not uncommon, and the Sgt got on the radio and called for the nurse.

After several minutes Henry responded and awoke, but seemed somewhat out of it and wasn’t able to get up. So the Sgt decoded to send him to the main unit infirmary so they could check him out. This Sgt is a pretty good one and goes the distance to help us out. A few years ago he was working the floor when another guy fell ill and if not for this Sgt quick response in getting this guy out he would have died. Once again, this Sgt (who I am deliberately not naming) was quick to call for medical help.

They brought a wheelchair and Henry got on it and they pulled him out. As he stopped for a moment in front of my cell while they grabbed his photo ID I spoke to Henry and he seemed a bit out of it. But said he’d be right back.

A little while later I caught the Sgt making his rounds and asked how Henry was doing. By that time, he should have been back. The Sgt said that after they pulled Henry out, he started to cough up a lot of blood so they decided to keep him over at the main unit infirmary for the night.

But in the early morning hours just before breakfast the midnight staff came and packed up all of Henry’s belongings. If they expected him right back they would not pack up his property so I knew something was up. Throughout the day I asked others how he was doing and they said he’s not too good and would probably stay over at the main unit infirmary for a few days just to keep an eye on him. But they said they’d save his cell next to me, so I didn’t think much of it.

By Wednesday afternoon those I asked started saying that Henry took a turn for the worse and didn’t look good. Anxiously I squeezed all the information I could from those I knew would know.

Early Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day, I was told that Henry had died at 2:30 AM, but that he didn’t suffer. I try to tell myself that at least his fight is over and he’s now in a better place and that at least his suffering was not prolonged as only too often it can be with cancer. But somehow it isn’t much of a comfort as he was a good friend and neighbor – he was family.

Just that quickly on Thanksgiving there isn’t much to be thankful for. The plans we made for weeks for our holiday feast now meant little as Henry was gone and so was my own appetite. Instead I spent the day just pacing my floor back and forth, four quick steps to the front then four quick steps to the back, listening to the radio and trying to get my head out of this place.

Then a song came on that made me smile….maybe even a message from Henry to a friend and brother who already greatly misses him. Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on heaven’s door” a song that not so long ago me and Henry sang together. Hearing that song brought tears to my eyes – but I smiled, as just hearing that song, at that particular moment, let me know that Henry’s alright and is now in a better place. Here’s to knocking on Heaven’s door – I will miss you my brother.


Mike Lambrix

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Forgotten Veterans: Condemning America’s Heroes.

As I sit in my concrete cage condemned to death, I take a moment to remember that today, November 11th, is Veteran’s Day. That is the legal holiday in which America honors those who have served in the military, willing to give their life to protect the constitutional liberties we all too often take for granted. In America, on the 4th of July, we celebrate our freedom, but today we take a moment to remember those who are fighting to protect our freedom.

Growing up in the San Francisco bay Area in the late sixties and early seventies, I often witnessed the chaotic protests against the Vietnam war at the time and because of the era in which it was, veterans coming home from service in that war were all too often looked down upon. For reasons that made no sense to the child that I was these men who served – often voluntarily – were blamed for a war they didn’t want to fight. Only many years later when I enlisted into the army did I realize the truth of a bumper sticker I saw while stationed at Ft Sill, Oklahoma: “Politicians start wars, soldiers fight them”.

It wasn’t that long after that brief military experience that I awoke early one morning, hours before even the sun came up, to a deaf-defying scream that awoke the whole wing on death row. About 4 or 5 cells up from me was a black man named David Futchess. At the time I was still new to this strange world in which I remain condemned to, and didn’t know that David often had these nightmares in which he was once again in Vietnam in yet another firefight with an invisible enemy, that was methodically picking off his fellow comrades one at a time. The technical term is post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it is common among men who served in combat, as David had.

In the coming months I came to know him as we shared the recreational yard together. For the most part, he was a quiet guy and easy to get along with and some might even say he was passive. But sometimes in the middle of a conversation his mind would just drift away and his eyes would go death as if staring off into a distant horizon and his hands would start shaking, sometimes causing his whole body to tremble. On one such occasions as he stood there in his trance a ball hit the ground near him and David spontaneously fell to the ground, screaming something incoherent.

A few years after I came to death row, in April 1986, the State of Florida put David to death in the electric chair. Just in the relatively short time that I was on death row, David was the 12th man executed since I came to Florida State Prison. Back then when the cell lights would go off just before an execution, I would pray for each, dropping to my knees and pleading with a God that never once answered my prayers and I continued praying until the lights came back on, knowing that once they did, yet another man was dead. Through the window out on the catwalk in the front of my cell I could then see the same white hearse they brought in through the back gate to collect the remains of the executed and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who stood at my cell door silently watching it slowly drive past our windows with the body of our friend and brother inside.

Those familiar with David Futchess’s case know that serving his country screwed his head up. After coming home a forgotten hero his neighbor said that it was not uncommon
for David to dig foxholes in his yard and sleep in them. Others talked about how sudden loud noises put him into a state of shock. Some said he turned to drugs to deal with the nightmares and it wasn’t that much of a surprise that one day he snapped and killed somebody. Just that quickly he was no longer an American hero who sacrificed his own sanity to serve his country and the very country he so willingly served with honor turned against him and quickly condemned him to death. I can only hope that now he has found peace.

Through the years I have come to know many others here condemned to death who by every right and reason are American heroes – now abandoned and condemned to death by the country they gave so much to protect.

Perhaps few cases could illustrate the tragedy of this injustice more than that of George Potter, who remains here on Florida’s death row to this day. George is now in his seventies and growing old on death row is not easy. I have been blessed to know George through the years and I find strength in his own perseverance. But when I think of the injustice that has been so deliberately inflicted on this man of honor and integrity I become disgusted of what my country has become and how quickly we turn on our true hero’s.

When George was barely 17 the Korean War broke out and George was so anxious and determined to fight for his country that he went down to the local military enlistment center and lied about his age. Within months this kid quickly became a man while fighting a war for a country that he believed in. While the friends he grew up with were still struggling to graduate high school back home, George was on the front line fighting a war. Not long after that George was shot and subsequently awarded a purple heart.

Even then, George refused to go home, insisting that they send him back up to the front line as he refused to abandon his fellow soldiers and brothers in arms. Even before his first wound fully healed, George was back on the front lines pushing North under General
McCarthy when his company (attached to the Eight Army) was suddenly overrun by the Chinese army and slaughtered.

Back to the south the politicians calling the shots decided to just let them die as the Chinese army could not be stopped. But George never gave up, not even when they gave up on him and left him for dead. Most of his comrades were killed, their bodies thrown into heaps like garbage. George was again severely wounded in combat and presumed dead. Only days later was he found and treated and subsequently awarded another purple heart and other medals honoring his sacrifice and service to his country. Then they sent him home.

For over 30 years George was an outstanding citizen and member of the community. But he was still haunted by the nightmares he couldn’t escape and like is only too common he turned to drinking to drown the ghosts of those who died beside him. During one of these drunken bouts George got caught up in a spontaneous event, a domestic argument with a woman he dated that too quickly escalated into her tragic death. Unable to cope with what happened, George pled guilty, then went back to his cell and attempted to take his own life.

But he lived and just as quickly our legal justice system forgot about his honorable service and the many medals bestowed upon him and quickly condemned him to death. Years later numerous high ranking military officers came to court to testify on behalf of George, speaking of how George earned each of the medals for honor and bravery and asking the court to show mercy to this genuine American hero – but the court refused to do so and denied their appeals. George remains here on death row, barely able to read and write, not only abandoned by the country he fought for, but also most of his family and friends.

But the stories I tell about David and George are only a few of the so many more. The tragic truth is that there are many forgotten heroes on death row, those who did not hesitate to run into battle to defend the very constitutional liberties now used to condemn them to death.

Many of the veterans served during the Vietnam War and were changed by their experience, but their numbers now dwindle as Florida is only too eager to put them to death. A few years ago it was Arthur Rutherford who had served as a marine in Vietnam and never recovered from that experience. As with all the others, his service to country meant little to a judicial system that sees military service only as a minor “non-statutory” mitigation factor given little to no weight when deciding whether these men should be condemned to death.

Many of these men have too much honor and self respect to argue that their military service should be used to save them. Take for example Thomas Pope, who has now been on Florida’s death row almost 30 years. Like Rutherford, he too has served honorably as a marine in Vietnam when still a young man and was recognized for his service and sacrifice for his country.

But the years have not been kind to Tom (Pope) as his service to country has long been forgotten. Now he very rarely even gets mail or a visit – like so many others his family and friends have long ago forgotten him. For many years Tom was my cell neighbor and I love him like my own brother. But now he is housed in another part of the building and I haven’t talked with him in a long while as it is almost impossible to talk to others housed on other wings. But he is not forgotten and I can only hope that others might also remember him. In a few months (January 29) he will be 60 years old so maybe someone will send him a birthday card to let him know that he is not forgotten.

Now, a new generation of military veterans is coming to the row as already I see new faces and learn of their own experiences that forever changed their lives. Not long ago I talked to a man now condemned to death who served with my older brother in the first Gulf war in Iraq. He remembered crossing paths with my brother shortly before my brother took an Iraqi grenade in the chest. More recently I see younger men now coming to join the ranks of the condemned who fought in combat in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 


So, today I want to take a moment to honor these men who stood their ground willing to sacrifice their lives for this country and the constitutional freedom that we often take for granted. All of us fall short of the glory of God and not one of us is perfect. Even assuming that these men committed a crime for which the law demands accountability, I think that it is indeed a sad commentary on the degradation of our own moral values as a society that we so quickly condemn our heroes to death and forget the service and sacrifice they gave so that we could remain a free society. Today I salute these forgotten heroes.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Law

Last week Florida's Governor Charlie Crist signed a "death warrant" on Paul Beasley Johnson, scheduling his execution for Wednesday November 4, 2009 at 6:00 PM. In Florida, all executions are carried out at Florida State Prison near Starke, Florida. Immediately upon signing this death warrant Paul was transferred from the main death row unit at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford to the maximum security Florida State Prison in the adjacent county of Bradford. In actuality these two prisons are practically side by side in the rural area outside of Starke, along Highway 16, separated only by a creek they call "new River", which coincidentally is also the county line separating Union County from Bradford County. From the window of the death row unit at Union Correctional i can look in the distance and actually see the imposing structure of Florida State Prison. But it's a sight I don't particularly care to see and don't make a habit of looking out to.

In 1981 Paul had killed a cop in Polk County, Florida (between Tampa and Orlando) as well as two others while wasted on the drug "crystal meth". At the time I lived in the area and am familiar with how the relatively small and rural farming communities there in Polk County had responded with outrage. It wasn't long before that incident that this same rural area was virtually terrorized by what was known as the "ski-mask" gang - one of the ringleaders of that, Daniel Thomas, was already put to death in Florida's electric chair in April, 1986. But the community didn't forget and in these farming towns the support for the death penalty is extremely high.

Anyone who wants to see how "justice" was served in Polk County back during that time need only read Barden v.Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168 (1986) in which the Supreme Court addressed the facts of extreme prosecutional misconduct and judicial bias when Willie Barden was accused of a brutal crime in the same area. Barden, known to us as "Shargo", was executed in March, 1988 despite substantial evidence of actual innocence and what numerous Supreme Court Justices characterized as extremely prejudicial prosecural misconduct comparable to that fictionally depicted in "To kill a mocking bird".

In Paul's case, he never pled innocence. But the factual circumstances still warrant questioning the conviction and imposition of the ultimate punishment. There's no question that at the time of these murders Paul was wasted on a powerful drug commonly called "crystal meth", which if and when used to the extreme, such as in Paul's case, is known to cause psychotic and even violent paranoia and render the person's actions involuntary. So, the real question comes down to whether Paul actually intended to commit any act of violence resulting in these tragic deaths.

At trial, Paul's specific defense was insanity and the question came down to whether Paul could tell the difference between right and wrong at the time of the crime, and possessed the mental capacity to form intent to commit the crime. The evidence, including numerous expert witnesses, testified that given the drugs that Paul was under and what many others witnessed in his behaviour, Paul was by definition "insane" and not responsible for his actions at the time.

Do we deliberately convict and condemn those who are insane? Under applicable law, we do not. Numerous Supreme Court cases consistently prohibit the execution of any person who is mentally incompetent or insane. In Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986) the Supreme Court defined this as a person "whose mental illness prevents him from comprehending the reasons for the penalty of death"

But when a defendant attempts to argue "insanity" as a defense then the burden of proving that he was actually "insane" at the time of the crime is on the defendant, and ultimately it is up to the jury to decide whether or not to ind him "not guilty" by reason of insanity. See Leland v. Oregon, 343 U,S. 790 (1952). With 3 victims - including a police officer, the jury was hardly sympathetic to Paul's argument and evidence that he had 'voluntarily" ingested massive amounts of crystal meth to the point of having an involuntary psychotic episode rendering him legally insane and thus not responsible for his actions. The jury rejected this insanity defense and sent him to death row.

That same year that Paul suffered his own drug induced psychotic breakdown resulting in the deaths of three people, the entire country was already outraged at the concept of an insanity defense as just a few months earlier the now infamous John Hinkley deliberately stalked, then shot, President Ronald Reagan on a sidewalk in Washington DC. At the same time Hinkley shot also several others, including a police officer, a secret service agent providing security for the President, and press secretary James Brady, who has since remained paralyzed.

But unlike Paul Johnson, John Hinkley came from a wealthy family and they quickly spent millions of dollars to hire the best lawyers and expert witnesses. Hinkley stood trial despite the fact that his crime was actually caught on camera with quite literally millions of people watching him gunning down the president and at least three others.

Money makes all the difference despite the overwhelming evidence against John Winkley, the jury in his case found him "not guilty" by reason of insanity. But Hinkley's insanity was not caused by toxic levels of alcohol or drugs - rather, Hinkley claimed that he was "intoxicated" to the point of psychosis by an even stronger influence - love. Hinkley convinced the jury that because of his "unrequited love" for actress Jodie Foster after seeing her portrait as a child prostitute in the movie "Taxi driver". Hinkley argued that to prove his love for Jodie Foster, he had to shoot the President and anyone else who got in his way.

But when Paul went to trial he was just another poor man defended by an overworked and underpaid court appointed lawyer. And thanks to Hinkley's widely ridiculed insanity defense, any jury at the time would be extremely skeptical of any "insanity" defense. So, it was no surprise that unlike John Hinkley, Paul Johnson was convicted and quickly condemned to death.

The irony of all this is that I've known Paul Johnson personally for over 20 years and I can tell you that Paul would be the first one to tell you that he should be held accountable for these deaths. In the 26 years that I've been on death row among the "cold blooded killers" and what society calls the worst of the worst psychopaths, there's probably not more than 5 guys who I would welcome into my house without reservation and sleep soundly through the night...Paul Johnson is without any question at the top of the list.

Since coming to Florida's death row Paul has now become a completely different man. No longer living his life with toxic levels of hard drugs, Paul has become a genuine Christian, who lives a life of moral values. In all the years that I have known Paul I never even once hears a single person say anything negative about him, nor have I ever seen or heard Paul engage in the games that are only too common around here. Quite simply, you just couldn't find a better man to live around and be blessed to call him your friend.

But now they want to kill him for an isolated act of violence brought about when he was under the influence of drugs almost 30 years ago. The state of Florida wants to put him to death for who he was a lifetime ago, deliberately taking the life of the man he is today.

I realize that there are many who would argue that Paul must be held accountable for the lives that he took. Anyone who actually knows Paul would know that he possesses genuine remorse for what he did and has often argued that he should be held accountable. But can anyone truly say that Paul falls into that category of the "worst of the worst" and that society would have anything to gain by now taking his life?

It is at times like this that I struggle with this concept of "justice" so commonly practiced by what we dare call a "civilized" society. What is "justice" anyway? When I look into my dictionary it says that justice is "the upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor" and "the principle of moral rightfullness and equity"

I do understand that as a civilized society we must hold those who commit a crime accountable, or our society would quickly descend into chaos. But I also understand that there is a substantial difference between administering justice and inflicting vengeance and that's what this is really all about - vengeance. This is about that dark and destructive need to exact vindictive revenge, not administering justice.

My dictionary defines "revenge" as "something done in vengeance, a retaliatory measure; a desire for revenge and vindictiveness" Then, when I turn a few pages over to the word "vindictiveness", I find that it is defined as "disposed to seek revenge, marked by or resulting from a desire to hurt, spiteful"

Under these objective definitions of the English language, Paul's now imminent execution is not about administering justice, but inflicting vengeance. And by doing so, our so-called "civilized" society becomes the very monster we say we seek to slay.

I can only ask you to pray for Paul and let him know that he is not alone. I can tell you this - even as Paul faces his own death at the hands of those consumed by hate and vengeance, I know without doubt that Paul will be on his own knees praying for them and accepting his own fate even if I cannot, like so many others. If Paul is executed by the state of Florida on Wednesday November 4 then his death will forever take a part of all of us and without the man he is today among us, as a society through his death we will all become something less.

Michael Lambrix

NOTE: on October 28, 2009 Paul Johnson received a stay of execution in order to
consider significant issues raised in Claim 1 of this appeal concerning
prosecutodal misconduct.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Death by Unnatural Causes

It seems that only too often I write about yet another person here on Florida's death row that has passed on. In my more recent blogs I talked about the recent executions of Wayne Tompkins and John Marek (please read "The perfect murder") But in the past years executions have become only a secondary cause of death for Florida's condemned as now we have many more succumbing to death by "natural causes" than by state sanctioned execution.

Today Bryan Bryant passed on after a prolonged and painful fight with cancer. A few weeks ago it was Alphonso Green, who endured many months of painful suffering before
pancreatic cancer took his life. Two more of Florida's condemned are now gone. To be honest, when I hear that they died of "natural causes" I'm conflicted on how I feel. On one hand I am disgusted by the characterization of "natural causes" when I know that they spent decades in a concrete cage condemned to death and I am convinced that this oppressive and solitary environment contributed to their fate. But on the other hand they've escaped the even crueler fate that the state intended them to suffer.

Having been on Florida's death row now for over a quarter of a century myself I know that death is only too common around here. When I fist came to Florida's death row in early 1984 those that died mostly were put to death by execution, although one that I know of back then (Mad Dog Nelson) did abruptly drop dead of a heart attack on the rec yard.

Ironically, as more men and women come to death row, executions actually slowed down and the population of the condemned grew to almost 400. Increasingly, as many of us aged, death death by natural causes has now become the leading cause of death among the condemned. Many of us have been locked away in these cages for twenty or more years and are simply growing old. 

On my floor we have 14 men and just out of curiosity I added up the number of years that 14 of us have now been on death row - collectively, that's over 300 years, with an average of over 20 years each.. This is about the same on all the floors - a total of 24 floors just here on the death row unit of Union Correctional Institution, with another bunch held at Florida State Prison.

What really gets me is that the pro-death penalty politicians and parasite judges who fanatically push for the death penalty, they got to know that they will never actually execute all these men and women. Florida has pretty much never executed even 10 men and women a year, and in recent years that rate has significantly dropped. But even if they did start executing 10 a year beginning tomorrow, it would still take 30 years just to clear out the current death row population and by the time you did that you'd still have hundreds more that have come to death row since.

But that's just never going to happen - and I certainly would not want to see it happen either. My point is this - we all know that in truth, when we sentence people to death we (as a society) don't really mean that they will actually be executed. Instead, what the courts really mean is that they will be sent up to the state prison and virtually warehoused until they slowly rot away and die of "natural causes"

It really bothers me that the lawyers and anti-death penalty groups will quickly rally together in unified opposition when the state screws up an execution and the condemned prisoner suffers for a few minutes, and yet there's virtually no organized advocacy speaking out against the fact that the average death sentenced prisoner now spends at least 20 years or more in solitary confinement with minimal contact or interaction with others. I don't understand how these people can get so motivated to fight against the relatively momentary infliction of unnecessary suffering resulting from a botched execution, yet these same people say nothing about the suffering the condemned endure as they slowly rot away in solitary cages until they finally die of "natural causes"

Incredibly, every time this issue is actually raised, these rabid pro-death penalty parasites that feed off the misery of others will quickly jump up on their soapbox and scream about how the solution is to simply kill them all quicker. When I see this, it only confirms what the facts show - the dumber a person is, the more likely it is that they will support the death penalty.

For over 30 years now these rabid lynch mobs have done all they could to speed up executions, only to corrupt our entire judicial process and substantially increase the inevitable execution of the innocent by playing politics with the appeal process. And yet they are so blinded by their blood-lust that they can't - or want - see that the more they push for quicker executions and corrupt the judicial process, the less execution are actually carried out.

In recent years more and more judges and politicians are finally speaking out against the corruption of the judicial process and admitting that based upon their personal experience within the judicial system they are convinced that innocent men and women have been executed. But those who advocate limiting appeals and expediting executions simply will not even talk about the inevitable risk of executing the innocent. They are so pathetically intoxicated by their thirst for vengeance that they cannot see the dark side; the consequences of their corruption of the process. But when it comes down to it, the execution of even one innocent person is nothing less than an act of deliberate murder.

Which brings me back to the issue I want to address. We call ourselves a "humane" society that respects the concept of basic human rights and the preservation of human dignity. But we tolerate this type of inhumane treatment of thousands of condemned prisoners - many of whom are subsequently proven innocent.

I personally both knew Alphonso Green and Byron Bryant - as I have most of those who have died here in the past 25 years. I understand that both had been convicted of brutal murders and neither had a convinced argument of innocence. I also know that many will say that they "deserved" to suffer, and that we should think about the victims, not the cold-blooded killers.

But it amazes me that we just refuse to see that when we, as a presumably civilized society, throw those we condemn into a concrete tomb and then let them just slowly rot away until many decades later they finally succumb from "natural causes": we ourselves, as a society become the very monsters that we claim to be fighting. When our grand-kids look back at us, how will they judge us?

I know that my words will not change anyone's mind. As the Bible says "their hearts are hardened' and those that advocate this treatment of the condemned will only applaud the death of Green and Bryant. And there will also be those who, like me, are troubled by the tragedy of their deaths and even angry that it is our so-called "civilized" society that allows this to be.

I've heard it said that the true measure of a man's character is defined by possessing the moral courage to stand up against the crowd and admit when one is wrong. Throwing men and women into solitary cages, knowing that their true fate is to slowly rot away until they inevitably succumb to death by "natural causes" is immoral and inhumane by any definition, it is wrong. If this is what we have become as a society, then we have forfeited any right to claims of being a civilized society - and we have become the very 'monsters" that we claim to be fighting against.

Mike Lambrix
Florida Death Row

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Perfect Murder

Countless books have been written and movies made about “the perfect murder” with fictional plots that ingeniously weave a web of diabolical motive and opportunity so creatively twisted that the reader must wonder what the truth really is, but in the end there’s always that one small detail that trips up the cold blooded killer and the heinous crime is exposed and the murderer quickly brought to justice. In this fictional world, truth and justice always prevail, as that’s how we always want a story to end. In a fundamental and inherent way, we delight in the gratification of knowing that justice was done.

If only this were true in the real world. All too often the truly diabolical cold-blooded killer can so easily twist our own perception of the truth so that all we really see is nothing more then what they want us to see, and then they commit an act of cold-blooded murder right before our own eyes, as in our ignorance of the truth, we even cheer them on and applaud them for taking another life in our own name. I’m talking about the state sanctioned serial killers who spent their careers methodically preying upon the innocents and without conscience, exploiting the overwhelming power of the almighty state to deliberately perpetuate the most inconceivable of injustices – the intentional execution of an innocent man.

What is truly remarkable is just how deliberately ignorant we choose to be, refusing to see the inconvenient truth that innocent people are being executed - and these executions are being carried out in our name. We – you and me, and all of us who silently stand by and say nothing as these executions are being carried out – are the cold blooded killers committing the quintessential “perfect murder” (please read “Where do we draw the line of moral responsibility”)

Incredibly, most of us will find that statement offensive, as our own conscience will conveniently create excuses as to why we are not responsible. After all, none of us actually pulled the switch, or put the needle in the arm to bring about the execution of an innocent man. “We” had nothing to do with it and probably didn’t even know about it. But make no mistake, if you really want to see the face of a cold blooded killer committing the perfect murder, then all you have to do is just look in the mirror. In our constitutional democracy our government only has the power “we” the people give them. And when the state carries out an execution, they do it in our name. By choosing to remain silent and refusing to speak out against the continued practice of pursuing executions in cases of questionable innocence, we become the cold blooded killers.

The truly tragic commentary on the state of our contemporary society is that there are those intimately familiar with the dynamics of the administration of our judicial system who have now for years spoken out and admitted that we are executing innocent people, but nobody wants to listen, their words go unheard and they are even labeled “bleeding heart liberals” and openly ridiculed by pro-death penalty politicians and rabid judicial activists only too eager to invoke and inflame the lynch mob frenzy that all too often makes inconvenient truths and reason irrelevant as this intoxication of blood-lust and vengeance take control – and they know it.

Numerous Supreme Court Justices have now openly admitted that innocent people have been and will be put to death. Recently US Supreme Court Justice Sandra day O’ Connor public ally admitted that we are executing innocent people (see. “Justice has doubts about death penalty: Justice O’ Connor says “The system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed’ St Petersburg Times, July 4 2001), only to subsequently be ridiculed by pro death penalty politicians and coerced into silence.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan, who spent his career as both a prosecutor and judge, also made it clear that there is no doubt that we are executing the innocent. In a speech given in Orlando, Florida on October 23, 1999 (see also “Justice questions guild of executed” Gainesville Sun, December 24, 1998) former Chief justice Kogan proclaimed;

“I estimate that, in the last 40 years, I have participated either as a prosecutor, as a defense attorney, as a trial judge, or as an appellate judge to the Supreme Court in the deposition of more than 1200 capital cases….There is no question in my mind, and I can tell you this having seen the dynamics of our criminal justice system over the many years that I have been associated with it; prosecutor, defense attorney, trial judge and supreme court Justice, that convinces me that we certainly have, in the past, executed those people who either didn’t fir the criteria for execution in the state of Florida or who in fact were factually not guilty of the crime for which they have been executed”

With such an unequivocal declaration by someone so intimately familiar with the judicial process, can any of us actually say with absolute certainly that innocent people are not being executed?

It is human nature to become conveniently blind to what we don’t want to see, especially it the inconvenient truth makes us morally uncomfortable. It is only too easy to say that there is no way innocent people are being executed as every capital case goes through countless state and federal appeals challenging the validity of the conviction before the person can be put to death. But we know now with absolute certainty that this appellate review process does not weed out the innocent and protect them from execution.

A few years ago United States District Court Judge Rakoff dared to confront this inconvenient truth in united States v. Quinones, 205 F.Supp.2d 256 (S.O.N.Y 2002) when the Federal government attempted to seek the death penalty against an accused murderer. After an exhaustive analysis of the issue, Judge Rakoff concluded that the government must be prohibited from even attempting to seek the death penalty as the evidence conclusively shows that the system itself has become so corrupted by errors that even allowing the government to seek the death penalty would itself create a “constitutionally intolerable” risk of executing innocent people.

In reaching this conclusion Judge Rakoff looked at irrefutable evidence that shows that despite the protracted appeal process in capital cases, it is clear that a substantial number of innocent people do still face execution in spite of having their capital cases reviewed by numerous state and federal.

Judge Rakoff stated in United States v. Quinones;
“What DNA testing has proved, beyond cavil, is the remarkable degree of fallibility in the basic fact-finding processes on which we rely in criminal cases. In each of the 12 cases of DNA exoneration of death row inmates referenced in (the earlier) Quinones, 196 FSupp 2d 416, the defendants had been found guilty by an unanimous jury that concluded there was proof of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; and in each of the 12 cases the conviction had been confirmed on appeal, and collateral challenges rejected, by numerous courts that had carefully scrutinized the evidence and the manner of conviction. Yet, for all this alleged “due process”, the result, in each and every one of these cases was the conviction of an innocent person who, because of the death penalty, would shortly have been executed - some came within days of being so – were it not for the fortuitous development of a new scientific technique that happened to be applicable to their particular cases.”

Since Judge Rakoff wrote that opinion in 2002 numerous others have been proven to be innocent by conclusive DNA testing.

The problem is that in most capital cases there is no forensic evidence that would allow a person’s guilt or innocence to be proven conclusively by DNA evidence. In recent years at least 135 men and women have been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death only to be subsequently exonerated and ordered released by the courts. See www.deathpenaltyinfo.org ) and only a handful of these cases involved the use of exoneration by DNA evidence.

Another troubling factor that substantially increases the likelihood that innocent people will be executed is that even in cases in which DNA evidence proved the innocence of the person on death row, and revealed the identity of the true killer, not even once has the state even so much as conceded to the possibility of error. In virtually every one of these cases, no matter how strong the evidence was of innocence, the state continued to uphold the conviction and pursue the execution of an innocent man.

Think about this for a minute. If those representing the state are unwilling to admit to even the possibility of error in cases in which the evidence of innocence becomes overwhelming – such as DNA evidence – how can we trust the state to protect the innocent from being put to death by execution in cases where new evidence undermines the moral certainty of guilt?

A good example of this is the last two executions carried out in Florida. Wayne Tompkins was executed in early 2009. Please read: (When does execution become murder) and John Marek was executed on August 19, 2009. Both cases were remarkably similar in that they were both “wholly circumstantial” cases – meaning that there wee no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions to support the state’s specious case. Both cases relied upon testimony given by witnesses who had a personal interest in helping the state convict and condemn them. And in both cases a substantial wealth of evidence was presented to show that a legitimate claim of innocence existed.

In Wayne Tompkins case the only person actually testifying that Tompkins admitted to committing the crime was Kenneth Turco, a “jailhouse snitch” who only agreed to testify against Tompkins because the state attorney agreed to help Turco with his own criminal charges. Prior to Tompkins execution irrefutable evidence was presented to the court to show that the prosecutor Michael Benito had actually told the jailhouse snitch to lie and fabricate evidence, a fact that the prosecutor (Benito) admitted. Even though the Florida Supreme Court admitted that Kenneth Turco’s testimony was “the most crucial evidence of Tompkins guilt” and there was no question that the prosecutor deliberately instructed Turco to provide false testimony, the court denied relief and Tompkins was executed.

In the more recent case of John Marek, not a single person could say that Marek killed the victim. Marek had consistently claimed for over 25 years that John Wigley, his acquaintance at the time who was also in the company of the woman shortly before the body was found, had committed the crime. Wigley was convicted of the crime, but sentenced to ‘life”, Marek was sentenced to death presumably because he refused to admit guilt.

Prior to Marek’s execution at least six witnesses came forth providing sworn testimony that John Wigley had told them - in graphic details – how he had killed the woman, not John Marek. But since all of these witnesses were “convicted felons” the court decided that they were not credible.

You see, in Florida – and many other states – it only takes one jailhouse snitch to provide the necessary testimony to convict and condemn a person, and even if that testimony is later proven to have been deliberately fabricated the conviction will stand. But if the defendant attempts to prove his innocence by presenting the testimony of at least six prisoners, then that testimony is rejected as not credible. This blatant hypocrisy openly invites error.

Another tragic similarity between Tompkins and Marek’s cases was that even though both cases involved legitimate claims of innocence, there was virtually no organized opposition to their execution prior to their execution. Presumably there are millions of people who oppose the death penalty on philosophical and moral grounds, especially when a legitimate claim of innocence is raised. And there were those who opposed both executions on these broader grounds. But there was virtually no organized opposition to these executions based specifically on their innocence.

Thus, my dear friends, I give you the quintessential “perfect murder” - a cold blooded killing committed right before our very eyes, and even in our own name. I cannot say with absolute certainty that either Tompkins or Marek were innocent. But I can say with absolute certainty that our judicial system is not perfect – and is not willing to admit to its own imperfection – and that makes the execution of the innocent absolutely inevitable, as we cannot count on the state, or the courts, to protect the innocent. Therefore, it is our moral duty to speak up and express our opposition in questionable cases before the state carries out that execution.

Please check www.southerninjustice.com


Saturday, September 5, 2009

“When history looks back”

In my death row cell I have a small T.V. and I watch way too much of it. Most of what I watch is for entertainment and serves no real purpose but to distract me from the reality of being condemned to death and the uncertainty of my fate. All too often many of those around me drown in the reality of their circumstance, slowly sinking beneath that surface of insanity until they’ve lost touch with reality.
Sometimes I wonder if perhaps my worst fate is that I cannot so conveniently detach from what we call “reality” and at least mentally escape my cruel fate. (Please read text of www.doinglifeondeathrow.blogspot.com)

But I also watch a lot of programs on history. Among my favorites a documentary style program by Ken Burns, such as the “Civil War” series. This looks back on how that war was brought about and the effects it had on our country, both past and present. Similar, programs take an in-depth look at more contemporary historical events, such as World War II, the Vietnam War and even the cultural shifts in our society in the past generation.

That got me to wondering what our own future society will see when history looks back upon us. We live in an incredible time, at the very forefront of the “digital” age when even the most insignificant event in our lives is reduced to “instant texting” and “twitter” – and there in the infinite realm of “cyber-space” preserved forever, just waiting for future generations to look back and peek into our own lives - and judge us upon what they see.

When our grandchildren – and their own grandchildren, too – look back at the records of our lives, what will they see? Just as today we look back and judge past generations, how will our future generations judge us? Already in recent years complex internet ‘search engines” have been built that enable us to simply type in a name and come up with a wealth of information and it’s a safe bet that these computer programs will only get better. Our grandchildren will easily be able to take a close look at out entire lives by “mining” the internet for anything with our name.

This will undoubtedly prove embarrassing for the millions of kids today who put social networking sites such as “MySpace” or “Facebook” without realizing that what we throw out into cyberspace today can last forever and our grandkids can dig up our past and wonder what possessed us to put up some thing of that nature, as it’s almost certain that future generations will come to respect the need for discretion and restraint.

Out more importantly, we live in an age in which even the lowest of the low, the very least amongst us, have a voice. Can you imagine what the millions of Jewish Holocaust victims might have said if only they could have written about their experience on the internet? O the generations of slaves brought to America as nothing more that property to be bought and sold?

When we look back into the shadows of history what we consistently see is that those actually making that history truly believed in what they were doing and even Hitler convinced many millions that mass genocide was for the good of all, that the senseless slaughter of millions, not only by Hitler, but by Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, and even more contemporary mass murders of ethnic populations such as Slobodan Milosevic in the Baltic Nations, and continuing today in many African countries, such as Sudan, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe – just to name a few.

They all have one thing in common – the perception that their purpose is justified and serves the interest of their society. It’s funny in a tragic sort of way just how incredibly easy it is for our leaders to convince the populations that the wholesale murder of so many were and is justified and in their own interest.

When I think about these things, I think about America’s we of the death penalty – the only western democracy still allowing it’s citizens to be put to death by the state, in company with countries like Iran, China and numerous other countries that have long been condemned for their own disregard for basic human rights.

How will history look back upon today’s America, and judge us? Our country today openly admits to using torture to extract confessions from suspected terrorists and unquestionably imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the word. Our own supreme court has been declared that the states may execute the innocent and that the agents of the state who are empowered to convict and condemn those accused of a capital crime are absolutely immune from accountability if they engage in deliberate acts of prosecutional misconduct to convict and condemn the innocent.

We can only hope that future generations will evolve and look back upon our own generation, and just as today we must ask how those of past generations could have justified their own acts of murder in the interest of a better good, that our grandchildren will look back and wonder how, as a matter of moral conscience, we might have justified the use of capital punishment to execute the innocent, even if although not directly advocating the executions of the innocent to take place, we still are responsible for not speaking out against it (please read “where do we draw the line of moral responsibility” at www.southerninjustice.com/blog )

I have often quoted Abraham Lincoln’s words “evil can only hope to triumph when good people choose to do nothing”, as these words are as true today as when they were first spoken over a century ago. Too often history has proven that our sense of moral conscience is only too easy influenced by the contemporary passions that drive us. And there are few contemporary social issues more compelling than capital punishment. Too many today blindly embrace the death penalty out of ignorance or instinct without realizing that it’s not just about holding the guilty accountable - it’s only too easy for morally corrupt politicians and judges to exploit high profile capital cases and use images such as “Ted Bundy” to convince the public why we must have the death penalty.

But the most vast majority of those condemned to death are unknown, their cases relatively unremarkable. All too often the worst of the worst actually are not sentenced to death. Rather, the majority of those we only too quickly condemn to death are simply pawns sacrificed to the perpetuation of that insidious blood thirsty beast called “politics of death”.

When history looks back from us what they will see is that the American judicial system had become completely corrupt by these beasts, the “politics of death”. What they will see is that although a few judges and politicians do speak out against the moral corruption of capital punishment, even admitting that the innocent are convicted, condemned and even put to death, and that there truly is a virtual epidemic of injustice as ethically corrupt prosecutors knowingly convict and condemn the innocent (please read “Anatomy of a corrupt prosecutor”) and equally corrupt judges knowingly uphold these wrongful convictions for fear that they will be subjected to political retaliation if they throw out a wrongful conviction. Only too often these locally elected judges are far more interested in winning the next election than protecting the innocent from wrongful execution.

But when history does look back, they must have a record to look to, and that is why it is so important that we document these capital cases that involve legitimate claim of innocent that the morally and politically corrupt courts refuse to correct. These judicial cowards and morally corrupt political parasites must be exposed for what they are. Maybe we cannot stop them from committing deliberate acts of murder under the pretense of administering justice, no more than a single German soldier could had spoken out against and stopped Hitler from slaughtering millions of innocent Jews.

But we can document these authorities and leave a record for future generations to look back upon – and that is precisely what I have been doing, through the gene row help of several people. (See www.southerinjustice.com ). Personally, I would love to see every capital case fully posted online – but that would be impossible for me to do.

What I would like to ask is that you help build a record for future generations to look back upon by leaving your own comments on my blog and sharing your own thoughts. Maybe one voice can be too easily drowned out by the roar of the lynch mob – but I know I am not the only voice and you too can be heard. So, I ask you to leave your comments and opinions on this bog, as well as on www.southernjustice.com . Together we can build a record that future generations can look back upon and let our grandchildren see that not everyone supported this inhumane injustice called capital punishment, used to put the innocent to death.
Our voice should be heard.

Until next time, Mike

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Do as I say, not as I do

On Monday June 8, 2009 the United States Supreme Court released its long anticipated decision in a case in which that Court was asked whether judges who had obvious bias in the outcome of the case must disqualify themselves from sitting in judgment. To the average person it would seem obvious that if a judge is a friend to one particular party, and even received substantial amounts of money from that party effectively owing the successful election to the monetary support of that friend, there would be a presumption of bias that would automatically require disqualification.

But we’re talking about the American judicial system, where the primary rule of law especially in the higher courts – is generally “do as I say, not as I do.” The fact that this case was even the subject of intense judicial debate is itself a testament of the hypocrisy and political corruption within our judiciary.

The facts in this case are pretty clear. In 2002 Hugh Caperton, owner of a West Virginia coal mining company by the name of Harman Mining Company won a 50 million dollar jury verdict against the A.T. Massey Coal Company. Subsequently, Don Blankenship, the C.E.O. of A.T. Massey Coal Company pumped millions of dollars into a local election to remove incumbent Democratic Judge Warren McGraw and put his own pick for judge, Republican Brent Benjamin on the court.

The clear implication is that Don Blankenship wanted to have the court in his own pocket. This isn’t rocket science and all but the deliberately ignorant can read between the lines. Blankenship pumped millions of dollars of his own money into this judicial election for only one purpose – Blankenship knew that he would need a “friend” on the court to that earlier $50 million dollar jury verdict thrown out.

Sure enough, Blankenship’s appeal of that jury verdict against him and his company climbs its way up to the West Virginia Supreme Court and – surprise! – guess who cast the deciding vote throwing out that $50 million dollar verdict? Yep, you guessed it – none other than Justice Brent Benjamin.

Incredibly, although any objective person would obviously question Judge Brent Benjamin’s decision in favor of his dear friend, motions to disqualify Justice Benjamin were all denied. Lawyers arguing in behalf of Don Blankenship and his morally corrupt A.T. Massey Coal Company essentially argued that as long as you are a rich powerful company it is perfectly acceptable to effectively buy justice from the highest courts of the land. And this case had to go all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the validity of this absurd argument as the lower courts could not reach a consensus on this moral question.

Then the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court and is fully argued by both parties and on Monday a decision was released in which a marginal majority agreed that there was an obvious conflict of interest in allowing Don Blankenship and his A.T. Massey Coal Company to pump millions of dollars into the campaign to get Justice Brent Benjamin elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court, only to then have Justice Benjamin preside over his benefactors case and decide the case in Blankenship’s favor.

What must be emphasized is that this case was close – believe it or not, but four of the seven Supreme Court Justices actually wrote dissenting decisions in favor of Don Blankenship and the A.T. Massey Coal Company. Not surprisingly, it was the ultra-conservative pro-corporate America Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. All four of these conservative justices were appointed to the court by conservative Republicans.

Once again this case graphically illustrates the moral values of an increasingly corrupt judicial system in which the power of politics determines the outcome of a case, whether it is a civil dispute such as the above, or cases involving social issues such as abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, etc.

In my opinion the average person simply doesn’t understand just how completely corrupt our contemporary judicial system has become in this past generation of conservative politics. Regardless to what your political position might be, anyone familiar with the process in which judges are either appointed to the bench or must campaign publically and be elected to the bench by popular vote, the result is the same – the insidious corruption of politics actually decides who becomes a Judge or Justice, not the particular qualifications of the judges themselves.

Repeatedly we have seen this pathetic circus play out as elected Presidents pick their nominees for a seat in the U.S. Supreme Court. Up until recently the conservative Republicans controlled both the White House and the senate responsible for casting the deciding vote that affirmed the nomination.

Recently dethroned President George W. Bush made no apologies for his undeniable agenda to appoint only ultra conservative judges to the bench. The nominee’s political and ideological philosophies were far more important then the qualifications – both of Bush’s most recent appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito irrefutably attest to this.

But now the Democrats control both the White House and the U.S. Senate with the recent retirement of Justice Souter, President Barack Obama has announced the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, and next month the U.S. Senate will begin its confirmation process. Most already concede that Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed – but only because the Democrats control the Senate. The simple truth is that if Republican John Mc Cain had won the presidential election last year, Sonia Sotomayor would not have had any chance of being nominated to the highest court regardless of her qualification. Equally so, even with President Obama in the White House, if the Republican’s had won a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate, then they would use that political control to block the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment.

With these political interested so blatantly corrupting our judicial process, how can justice ever truly prevail? Those appointed to the highest levels of our judiciary are effectively puppets of the politics that define them. Any case that might come before these politically corrupted courts will undoubtedly be decided not on the merits of the case, but upon the political agenda of those appointed to the court.

Maybe its time that we, as a society, start to take a long, hard look at what our concept of “justice” is. As a constitutional democracy every level of our government exists to serve the people – not just the politically influential, or the rich and powerful, but the average individual.

I believe that as a society we have forgotten the democratic principles that have made our republic – The United States of America – the envy of the world. How many Americans today are even vaguely familiar with the original “Bill of Rights” contained within our constitution? How many Americans have ever contemplated upon the fact that in these ten articles historically known as the Bill of Rights, virtually every one of them are specifically intended to protect the individual against the politically corrupted abuse of power by those who act in the interest of government? Not even one of those articles exists to empower any for of government, including our judiciary, to deprive any individual of even one of these protected rights.

Arguably, the most important constitutional right is that of “due process,” which itself protects the recognized right to a fair and impartial process when an individual must go before the courts to invoke or enforce their other rights. Under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, it states that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”

The courts have long recognized that this Due Process Clause protects the “fundamental fairness” of the judicial proceedings, requiring that any judge who might have a personal or political interest in the outcome of a case, or harbor personal opinions or ideologies that might unfairly influence the outcome of a particular case in favor of either party must disqualify themselves from presiding over the case.

Is this actually the case? Or has our judicial system itself now become so completely corrupted by the pervasive “politics of death” that the integrity of our judicial system itself has become inherently corrupted?

The Supreme Court’s decision recognizing the corruptive influence of politics and money actually only addresses the very tip of a much larger iceberg that ultimately may very well sink our constitutional democracy.

In recent years we have gone to war against every conceivable external threat to our constitutional democracy – except the threat that comes from within. For a generation now conservative politicians have exploited their own self-created “war on crime” to scare the public into supporting their own ideological agenda of methodically eliminating the individual rights of all people. Under their influence, our judiciary has been stacked with judicial activists such as the cartel of ultra-conservatives on the Supreme Court (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) who fanatically force-feed their own political prejudices down everyone’s throats, whether it be the over-zealous pursuit of expediting executions by any means necessary, even openly advocating the execution of the innocent in the interest of what they see as the greater purpose of expediting finality, or declaring that abortions are “murder” and compromise the value of society’s respect for the sanctity of life (apparently, aborting an unborn fetus is murder, but executing an adult, even if they are innocent, is moral), these conservatives came to the Court with a politically motivated ideological agenda.

The question I ask now is, just what is the difference between a morally corrupt party blatantly buying justice by pumping millions of dollars into the campaign to elect the specific judge he wants to decide his case, and a politically corrupt process that handpicks potential judges and Supreme Court Justices based upon their political ideologies and agenda’s rather than their qualifications?

The administration of “justice” must be impartial; truth and justice can only prevail when the fundamental fairness of our judicial process itself is protected by exorcising politics and personal ideologies from it. Tragically, even with the greatest minds not one has yet come up with a viable solution to protect against this corruption. In such a system, can “justice” ever truly prevail? I ask you to please check out and read my website Southern Injustice.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is Compassion and Mercy Too Much To Ask?

A few months ago the Orlando Sentinel newspaper in Florida published an article entitled “Justice Denied? On Florida’s death row many lives end – but not by execution” (February 20, 2009 by Sarah Lundi and Vicki McClure) in which the general premise was that when those condemned to death await the finality of that sentence for decades only to end up dying of “natural” causes. Before their date with the executioner comes, they are somehow cheating justice as, by God – we want to see these condemned killers die at our hands, not let them slowly rot away and die of cancer or a heart attack.

What kind of sick twisted mind actually thinks that slowly rotting away in solitary confinement while awaiting the uncertainty of the fate of being condemned to death is somehow too humane a way to die? I’ve heard it said that our humanity is defined by our capacity for compassion. As a self proclaimed “Christian” nation, the Bible - the very words of Jesus – teach that if we don’t forgive others, we will not be forgiven ourselves, and that mercy will be shown to those that have shown mercy to others. And yet, as a society, is this what we really practice?

Lets be honest – the death penalty is not about administering justice but appeasing that primal need for vengeance. In the Orlando Sentinel article the journalists quoted several members of the victim’s families, both of whom expressed their need and desire to actually watch the prisoner, condemned for killing their loved one, actually die. They want a first row seat and watch that bastard take his last breath.

But is this about victim’s right – or is it about vengeance? These families suffered a tragedy beyond comprehension and lost someone they loved to a senseless murder. I do understand their anger and sense of loss – and I pray for them, that by the grace of God they will find the strength to overcome that pain.

The problem is that it is only too easy to hate and want to seek revenge upon those that have caused us so much pain. Maybe that’s why our Christian faith teaches us that we must forgive. When Jesus was subjected to the infliction of a horrific death by crucifixion, he prayed for forgiveness for those that put him to death. In that moment of his own mortality, how much easier it would have been for Jesus to call upon his Father and bring down the very wrath of God upon them?

A few years ago we watched the news unfold as a “crazed gunman” went into an Amish schoolhouse and senselessly slaughtered numerous children for no reason but that he apparently didn’t like Amish people, a sect of Christians long defined by their simplicity and Christian charity.

Few of us could even begin to comprehend the immeasurable depth of pain and loss these people – loving Christians must have felt. Like so many others, I watched this horror unfold on my TV, and then I could not suppress the tears that filled my eyes as these Amish people pulled together, and public ally prayed for the forgiveness of the man who had just killed their children.

Even now, just thinking about it I get a lump in my throat, never before, and never since, have I seen such a remarkable example of true Christian compassion. I remain in awe and wonder of these people whose spiritual faith was so pure and strong that even in that moment of anguish they found the strength within them to pray for the forgiveness of this killer. At that moment I’m sure that angels wept, and the Lord looked down upon this pitiful world and took pride in this creation of humanity that has proven such a disappointment.

When I read about the victim’s family’s need to find closure only by personally watching the man who murdered their loved one die I feel sorry for them as they must be consumed by hate and anger and when it comes down to it hate and anger truly are the cancer of the soul.

Although I certainly do not negate the tragic loss of their own loved one, I can’t help but wonder if the greater loss is their own sense of spiritual peace as one cannot find true spiritual peace while still consumed by the destructive forces of anger and vengeance.

But I also wonder what it says about us as a society when the mainstream media so deliberately provokes this need for vengeance, exploring the victim’s families for no purpose but to sensationalize the facts and sell a few more newspapers. I believe it was famed journalist Edward R. Murrows who said that journalistic integrity is defined by the objectivity of the report.

When I read these all too common newspaper articles that so deliberately exploit the pain of the victim’s families as a means of provoking societies unquenchable thirst for revenge, do they reflect a fair and objective account?

The Orlando Sentinel would have its readers believe that those who dare to die of “natural causes” on death row before the state can kill them somehow cheat justice. But what I found remarkably absent from report is any mention of the pain and suffering that the condemned prisoner’s own family feels as their loved one slowly succumbs to death by cancer, or whatever, dying under horrible and inhumane circumstances.

Consider the case of Frank Lee Smith – conveniently not mentioned by the Orlando Sentinel. Frank Lee Smith was convicted and condemned to death in Broward County, Florida for the brutal rape and murder of an 8 year old girl. Smith swore before God and all who would listen that he was innocent. As year after year slowly passed Smith received few visitors and like so many others, became alienated from the outside world. As the years passed, his own psychological degradation too its toll and he retreated into his own world, isolated and alienated from even those around him.

I last spoke with Frank Lee Smith in 1999, a few months before he finally died a slow and painful death from cancer. Not long after that someone sent me a newspaper article from the Ft Lauderdale Sun Sentinel (owned by the same company that owns the Orlando Sentinel) that told of how after 9 years of fighting the state to test forensic evidence, the test results came back and conclusively showed that Frank Lee Smith was innocent of the crime he was condemned to death for all along. He spent 16 years on death row, and even though his innocence was proven by indisputable evidence, Smith still died on death row.

Just as it is only too easy as individuals to give in to that primal need to hate and demand revenge, so too it is only too easy for journalists to exploit these destructive forces for the purpose of selling newspapers.

Whether we personally support the death penalty or not, capital punishment is a complex issue that reaches far beyond the simplicity of superficial, primal passions of our individual need for vengeance. It is too much to hope that perhaps all of us that call ourselves Christians can learn a lesson from the Amish and find the spiritual strength within each of us to overcome the destructive passions of revenge and instead show mercy and compassion towards these that have caused such tragedy and pain?

As a death sentenced prisoner myself (please see, www.southerninjustice.com ) I have my own prejudices and I apologize to those that might find my opinion offensive. But after a spending over a quarter of a century in solitary confinement awaiting the executioner myself, and watching so many of those around me slowly grow old, waste away and die of “natural causes” I can tell you that they are not “cheating justice” as it would be hard to imagine a more inhumane and horrific way to die then to slowly rot away in a cage. (Please check out www.doinglifeondeathrow.blogspot.com )

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cranking up the Killing Machine

Here we go again; Florida is cranking up its killing machine. A few weeks ago Florida’s governor “chaingang” Charlie Crist signed two more death warrants; scheduling both David Johnston and John Marek for execution in May. As I write this John Marek has just been granted a stay of execution – but David Johnston remains under the gun and on death watch. (by the time this article was received and typed up David Johnston has also received a stay of execution)

Since governor Crist took office in January 2007 he has shown unexpected restraint in signing the death warrants of Florida’s condemned. As a long time conservative Republican politician who has often voiced his strong support for the death penalty most of us had expected governor Crist to aggressively pursue executions- to be own version of George W Bush, another conservative Republican who paved his way to the white house of ordering the execution of 157 men and women while serving as the governor of Texas. Of course we all know how well that worked out when George W Bush then went on to become the President of the United States.

Few familiar with the death penalty could deny that capital punishment is really about is the politics of death. The true nature of our so called “democracy” is that nothing can win an election in the south quicker than jumping up on a soapbox and start foaming at the mouth while promising the good citizens of these redneck states that you will kill more people.

It’s difficult to really understand the mentality of people in the south. If you were to meet most of them on the street they’d appear to be good, God-fearing Christians who place great value in the concept of compassion towards their fellow men. Most will proudly call themselves Christians and will pack themselves into their chosen church every Sunday.

There is a lot to be admired about most southern folks – but then there’s that dark side of the southern states, only a generation or two removed from the undeniable racism and even slavery that was not so long ago all too common. As sweet and pleasant as these southern might be, there is still a lot of deep-rooted hate and bigotry in the hearts of those that gather for their Sunday socials on the lawn of their local southern Baptist Church.

It doesn’t take much to bring this hate and bigotry out. In today’s world it’s now politically unpopular to use specific racially derogatory names and characterizations, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still in their hearts. This insidiously inbred hate is passing along from generation to generation and manifests itself in the most subtle of ways that most of those who actually participate perpetuating this hate don’t even see it for what it is.

The death penalty is one of those catalysts that will quickly expose this hate in the hearts of those southern belles and their gentlemen. And politicians down here in the Deep South feed off of the barely concealed bigotry – and I’m afraid that Governor Crist is no exception.

It wasn’t so long ago that Gov. Crist was an ambitious and up and coming politician. For many years he shamelessly exploited the politics of death by proudly campaigning in support of the death penalty. Over the years he earned the name “Chaingang Charlie” as a state legislator as he campaigned for the elimination of early releases and expedited executions. He built his political career on the blood and misery of those imprisoned and condemned. He became the pretty boy poster child of the quintessential southern politician, with his puppy dog eyes and his cold-blooded heart.

After serving first as a State Representative then as a State Senator, Charlie Crist went on to become Florida’s Attorney General – the “top cop” responsible for among other things fighting appeals filed by death row prisoners and seeking to carry out their executions. It seemed that “Chaingang Charlie” was made for that job.

In 2006 Florida needed a new Governor as Republican Jeb Bush (younger brother of George W Bush) had served the legal maximum of 8 years. It came as no surprise when Charlie Crist tossed his hat into the running with the blessing and backing of the Bush family and their political money machine. Sure enough, Chaingang Charlie became the new Governor of the state of Florida.

Those of us on death row saw this as a dark cloud on the horizon, certain that Charlie Crist would come gunning for us and Florida would son become another Texas, where executions are so common that they don’t even warrant a byline on the evening news. One particularly talented artist on Florida’s death row even drew a blank ink drawing of the Grim Reaper – with Charlie Crist’s face clearly showing beneath the black hooded robe.

But then Chaingang Charlie surprised us. Just before he was sworn in as the elected
Governor in January 2007 Florida executed Angel Diaz in a “botched” execution that witnesses testified left Diaz writhing in pain and conscious of his physical torment for over 30 minutes. Lawyers quickly filed petitions arguing that Florida’s lethal injection protocol constituted cruel and unusual punishment thus making the death penalty unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court got involved and all executions came to a quick halt.

To our surprise, Governor Crist public ally supported a moratorium of all execution in Florida until a commission could determine what went wrong when Angel Diaz was executed and how it could be prevented from happening again.

As Crist got comfortable in his new office, he surprised us even further by public ally supporting a proposed law allowing for monetary compensation to those who had been wrongfully convicted and signing an executive order making it easier for previously convicted felons to have their civil rights – including the right to vote – restored.

As the months, then first few years, passed Governor Crist showed surprising and completely unexpected restraint in signing any death warrants, and even seemed to focus only upon a few cases in which the condemned prisoner had committed an act of rape and murder on a child and guilt was not a question.

Then an unprecedented 4 vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court opened up and for the first time in Florida’s history a single governor had the opportunity to virtually handpick the majority (4 of the 7) justices. Governor Crist’s conservative Republicans could almost be seen foaming at the mouth over this opportunity to stock the court with hardcore conservative judicial activists who would have the majority power to steamroll their ideological causes – outlaw abortion, expedite executions, and privatize government.

The dark clouds on the horizon seemed even more ominous and we just knew that the conservative killing machine would crank up and slaughter our ranks without mercy.

But again governor Crist proved to be unpredictable. His first two appointments to the Florida Supreme Court (Canady and Polston) were straight out of the rank and file extreme pro-death penalty conservative Republican insiders, both long time Bush family supporters. The conservatives who put Chaingang Charlie were proud of their good ole boy and just knew that in coming months they would have control over the Florida Supreme Court.

I only wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the Good Ole Boy’s clubhouse when much to their surprise and dismay Governor Crist rejected the next two handpicked conservative judicial nominees and instead selected a moderate Cuban – American from South Florida, and (gasp!) a “liberal» black man from Central Florida.

Suddenly the very conservatives puppet masters who put Chaingang Charlie in the Governor’s office were screaming “traitor”, openly accusing good ole Charlie of being a closet “liberal” (in conservative politics there is nothing lower than being called a “liberal”) and vowing to end Governor Crist’s career.

Not long after this political backlash Crist suddenly began to act like a conservative politician again, first ordering the execution of Wayne (“Grey Cloud”) Tompkins, who may have been innocent, but was never the less an easy execution. And just a few months later, for the first time since taking office, he signed two death warrants the same day.

All of this brings us back to the one question – after several years in office, why has Governor Crist suddenly become more aggressive in signing death warrants and attempting to expedite more executions?

I believe that the answer to that question is simple enough – southern politics. See, in Florida the Governor’s race is run each 4 years, and next year (2010) Gov. Crist must run again for re-election. Political campaigns require huge amounts of cash and next year’s governor’s race has already begun. If Crist wants to run and win re-election, he must suck up to his supporters now. This is how the politics of death are played. Here in the south all politicians know with absolute certainty that the only way to win and elected office is to suck up to these God – fearing southern Baptists and promise to kill the condemned. That beast within them, that inbred need for hate and bigotry must be fed and with racism and other forms of bigotry now outlawed the only way to manifest this hate in a politically and socially acceptable way is to call upon the killing machine and carry out more executions.

David Johnston now awaits in a solitary cell only steps away from the death chamber – in a cell I myself had once occupied when I too faced the Grim Reaper, but make no mistake about it – David Johnston is not facing imminent execution for any crime he may (or may not!) have committed. Rather, David Johnston is merely the latest led to the slaughter to appease the blood thirst of these pro-death penalty conservatives so that Governor Crist can win their support in his own upcoming political campaign for re-election. That’s what it is really all about - the politics of death and those of us who are condemned are merely the helpless pawns.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Are Prosecutors above the Law?

Some might argue that as a death sentenced prisoner I’m hardly qualified to throw stones at anyone, and maybe they’re right. In the Bible it quotes Jesus Christ as saying “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. But then, I suppose it could equally be argued that it is human nature to find fault in others around us, in our own way, we all throw stones so is it really all that terrible that I throw a few stones, too?

Those familiar with my previous writing already know that I am especially critical of prosecutors who have exalted themselves to gods and use the power entrusted in them to victimize the innocents. For the life of me I just don’t understand why our society continues to tolerate what clearly is a virtual epidemic of prosecutional misconduct.
We live in a constitutional democracy and these prosecutors are employed to represent us, “we, the people”. When a state (or district) attorney prosecutes someone, they do it in our name.

But very rarely do we hear anyone speak out against these self-exalted “gods”, not even when we know they are corrupt and have consistently abused their authority.
Even our courts protect them by granting these parasites immunity, so that even if they do deliberately fabricate evidence and send an innocent man to his (or her) death under the pretence of administering “justice” they can look the court in the eye and know they are protected.

Recently I read an editorial in the USA Today newspaper (April 6, 2009 “Real-life CSI rife with conflicts of interest”) in which it mentioned only in passing that Texas had implicitly conceded they executed an innocent man. The editorial discussed a recent report in the National Academies of Science, in which independent investigators revealed that crime labs across the country routinely manipulate forensic evidence to favor the state, assisting the state in securing a conviction.

In that unnamed case the individual was convicted and condemned to death primarily upon the forensic evidence testing by a state-owned lab. But the test results that sent this man to his death were deliberately manipulated and at best, “unreliable”. This man protested his innocence to no avail - forensic evidence is presumed to be objective and jury’s will believe the science over the self serving protestations of innocence every time, oblivious to the fact that this all-powerful forensic evidence all too often is not what it seems, and is even routinely manipulated and fabricated to give the prosecutor the evidence needed to convict.

This Texas case is by no means the exception. Similar independent studies of crime labs in almost every other state have consistently exposed similar acts of manipulation of forensic evidence to win a conviction. Although perhaps in most cases the accused actually was guilty - but what about the countless cases in which the accused was innocent?

What this is really about is winning by any means necessary. Those familiar with the American criminal justice system know only too well that prosecutional misconduct is by far the leading cause of wrongful convictions. In the past year we have seen numerous high profile cases in which prosecutors deliberately broke the rules to win a conviction. Most recently it was the case of U.S. senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, ironically himself a career conservative who voted in the very Federal judges and US Supreme Court justices who have given prosecutors immunity even when they deliberately fabricate evidence and knowingly convict and even condemn the innocent.

Senator Stevens spent decades as a powerful politician – arguably one of the most powerful politicians in America. But he fell from political grace when he campaigned for “pork-barrel” projects that included an infamous “bridge to no-where”. Subsequently in came out that he had a substantial amount of money- which some said were pay-offs for his political support. Imagine that- a politician accepting kick backs.

Last October Senator Stevens was convicted of corruption, and his long political career abruptly ended in public disgrace. He of course vowed to appeal, protesting his innocence. But he was just jet another convicted felon crying innocence, and nobody bothered to listen.

Earlier this month the newly appointed US attorney General Eric Holder personally called for the conviction to be thrown out after his office discovered the prosecutor had actually withheld exculpatory evidence from Senator Steven’s lawyers. Although the prosecutor in the Stevens case is claiming inadvertent “carelessness”, the now revealed court intent in concealing the evidence that if exposed would had discredited the states case against Senator Stevens.

Think about this for a minute- if a prosecutor can deliberately conceal exculpatory evidence when convicting one of the most powerful senators in America, in a high profile case, then what chance does the average indigent accused criminal defendant in America actually have?

The American judicial system is completely corrupt to its very core- and I for one am absolutely convinced that the true cause of this inherent corruption is the judicially invoked absolute immunity the US Supreme Court has granted prosecutors.

For those unfamiliar with the legal concept of “absolute immunity”, basically it means that according to the US Supreme Court prosecutors cannot be held accountable, not even if they deliberately fabricate evidence to convict an innocent man.

In fact this issue is now again pending before the US Supreme Court (Pottawattamie County, Iowa vs. Harrington, US Sct case # 081065). In this case the lawyers representing two prosecutors (Joseph Heval and David Richter) are now arguing that although they do not deny deliberately concealing exculpatory evidence (evidence supporting innocence) from the accused, that based upon Imber V. Pachtman, 424 vs. 409 (1979) they are absolutely immune from being held accountable and the case must be dismissed.

What does it say about the integrity of the American judicial system when prosecutors can appear before the US Supreme Court and openly admit that they did knowingly withheld evidence resulting in a wrongful conviction – and claim that under the law established by the US Supreme Court, they cannot be held accountable?

The problem here is that the American public in general is ignorant- they just don’t have a clue as to how completely corrupt the judicial process has become. Most Americans don’t realize that the US Supreme Court has itself declared that prosecutors can deliberately fabricate evidence with the intent to convict and condemn innocent men and women with completely impunity – and that in America, the constitution does not even protect the innocent from being executed.

Without accountability there can be nothing but inevitable corruption. But how do you hold corrupt prosecutors accountable when the court protects them?
Even now as the public is becoming increasingly aware of the virtual epidemic of wrongful convictions we still tolerate a corrupt judicial system that effectively advocates convicting and executing the innocent by refusing to hold corrupt prosecutors accountable.

Maybe I’m wrong for throwing stones. But as Abraham Lincoln said – “evil can only triumph when good men choose to do nothing”. If the recent case of Senator Stevens clearly shows nothing else, it is that nobody- not even the most powerful politician in America, is immune from being victimized by deliberate “win by any means necessary” prosecutional misconduct.

I would encourage you to read the previously posted blog article “The Anatomy of a corrupt prosecutor" and think about why this matter really is by far the most important issue relating to the contemporary epidemic of wrongful convictions. Any legal system that knowingly tolerates the deliberate fabrication of evidence, including the deliberate concealment of exculpatory evidence, and allows this type of deliberate prosecutional misconduct to become the leading cause of wrongfully convicting and condemning innocent men and women is nothing less than completely corrupt itself.

But unless people start to speak out against this evil it will never end. How many more innocent men and women must be victimized by morally and ethically corrupt prosecutors who are more interested in winning the case than ensuring justice is served?
How many innocent men and women must be executed by a corrupt judicial system before people out there realize that if it can happen to me, it can also happen to you?
What will it take for the public out there to get it through their heads that if a corrupt prosecutor can do this to the most powerful politician in America, then they can do it to you too?

If this issue matters to you, then I ask that you check out www.southerninjustice.com , and read the currently pending appeal briefs in my case presently before the Florida Supreme Court. Collectively, these recently filed briefs (written arguments) show how easy it is for a state attorneys office to deliberately fabricate a case against anyone, and knowingly send an innocent man to death row. And just as it can happen to senator Stevens, and as it has happened to me, it can also happen to you or someone you love. Isn’t it time that each one of us stood up and spoke out against this epidemic of prosecutional misconduct and start demanding that our judicial system hold any prosecutor who dares to deliberately violate the law fully accountable. Anything less only serves to undermine the integrity of our judicial system itself.