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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Resurrection of the Star Chamber

Imagine being only a few feet away from the shore in a body of water way over your head – and you’re drowning. Desperately you look to a crowd of people who have gathered to watch you go down and yet not a single person even attempts to throw you a rope. You struggle to tread water, but it’s a losing battle and slowly you begin to sink into the cold depths and still those gathered to watch, those who could so easily save your life, just stand there and let you go down. Your life means nothing to them – they don’t care.

As a death sentenced prisoner, that’s just as I feel. I’m drowning and my death means inevitable. And yet the lawyers the state pays to throw me the rope and save my life are just standing there, watching me go down. The rope is right there at their feet and all they have to do is just bend over, pick it up and throw it. But they won’t. My expectations are unrealistic as in truth they don’t work for me, they work for the state – the same state that wants me to die. Saving me from death is not in their interest as that would be biting the hand that feeds them.

I don’t understand it and yet I’ve seen it too many times. When it comes to the death penalty, who lives and who dies is not decided upon the nature of the crime allegedly committed, but upon the quality of legal representation the condemned is provided. However, the state doesn’t play fair – they deliberately stack the deck by creating obstructions to prevent appointed legal counsel from too “zealously” representing their clients – and the lawyers play along as they adopt the Marxist philosophy that the good of the many outweigh the good of any one man.

Even the innocent are expendable when it comes to the politics of death. I would challenge anyone who might question my innocence to check out www.southerninjustice.com and decode for yourself. But my innocence is irrelevant and the US Supreme Court has already proclaimed that the US Constitution does not prohibit the state from putting a person to death simply because they are innocent Herrera v. Collins (1993)

For the reason my only chance to avoid being executed in spite of my innocence is to present material “new evidence” that sufficiently “undermines confidence in the verdict”, thereby establishing the foundation upon which the courts can grant a new trial by throwing out the wrongful conviction.

But specifically in our politically corrupted courts this is a very difficult thing to do, especially when the evidence used to convict you was wholly circumstantial – meaning there never was any eyewitness, or physical or forensic evidence, or confessions. Although the US Supreme Court does recognize a “fundamental miscarriage of justice” exception to politically manufactured and statutorily created procedural bars that would allow the litigation of a successive post conviction appeal, this exception requires the condemned prisoner to first produce “reliable new evidence” such as scientific evidence (DNA evidence) or other physical evidence substantiating innocence. See House v. Bell, 547 US 518 (2006)

The problem is that if there never was an eyewitness, or physical, or forensic evidence to begin with the how could it even be possible to produce this type of evidence? The fact of the matter is that the less evidence there was to convince a jury to convict you, the easier it is to execute you. How does that even make any sense?
Anyone who might doubt that the innocent ARE being executed should consider the words of now retired former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan, who had public ally stated that:

“ And there in 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 convinces me that we certainly have, in the past, executed those people who never didn’t fit the criteria for execution in the State of Florida, or who – in fact – were not guilty of the crime for which they have been executed”

The irony of all this is that the vast majority of people out there believe that the courts thoroughly review every capital conviction specifically to ensure that the person actually is guilty of the crime before they are executed. That simply is not true. The courts actually are legally restricted to review only the specific claims raised on appeal as presented by appointed legal counsel. A free-standing claim of innocence cannot even be raised on appeal, as innocence in itself is simply irrelevant.

The entire appeal process is governed by a complete set of procedural rules that prohibit legal counsel from raising claims unless they deal with the alleged deprivation of a specific right that arguably deprived the “convicted killer” of a “fair trial” See, as the US Supreme Court explicitly states in Herrera v. Collins, 506 US 390 (1993) in America, you have the constitutional right to a “fair trial” but you do not have a constitutional right to be protected from execution simply because you are innocent

This is where the complexity - and the insanity – of the capital post conviction appeal process really takes its toll. Because of the politics of death, over the years pro-death penalty politicians and judges have created a complex maze of rules that govern death penalty appeals. By arguing the need “to expedite the finality” of capital convictions so that the sentences of death imposed upon the condemned can be carried out without “unnecessary delay” these pro-death penalty advocates have created procedural rules that because of their complexity the condemned prisoner cannot possibly attempt to pursue his own appeals and must depend upon legal counsel to do so.

But in numerous cases the US Supreme Court has declared that there is no right to legal counsel in capital (death-sentence) post conviction appeals. See, Murray v. Giarratano, 492 US 1, (1989), recently reaffirmed in Lawrence v. Florida, 549 US 327 (2007)

Here in Florida, this created a problem. After the death penalty was re-instated in Florida in 1974 and found to be “constitutional’ in Proffitt v. Florida, 428 US 242 (1976) Florida was once again cleared to crank up its killing machine and in 1979 Florida became the first state to put a person to death (John Spinkelink) against his will. In the years that followed, beginning with the execution of Robert Sullivan in the late 1983 Florida then took the lead in the number of executions it carried out – back then (1983-1986) not even Texas could keep up with Florida. But then Florida reached a bottleneck. During these dark days of cranking up “ole Sparky” a small group of volunteers (Susan Carey, Charlotte Holdman etc) worked diligently to recruit lawyers willing to represent the growing death row population. But as the number of death sentenced prisoners steadily increased, there simply were not enough lawyers willing to volunteer to represent them – and yet then Governor Robert Graham kept pushing for more executions.

Under the law that existed at the time; see Graham v. State, 372 so 2d 1365 (Fla. 1979),
although there was no constitutional right to appointment of post conviction counsel in capital cases, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that “due process” (a constitutional right governed by the concept of “fundamental fairness”) required the courts to appoint legal counsel “ when a prisoner filed a substantially meritorious post conviction motion and a hearing on the motion was potentially so complex that the assistance of council was needed”.

By 1984 the Florida Supreme Court was compelled to begin composing “stays of execution” to stop the execution of those who did not have legal counsel. Politically, this did not look good for governor Graham and then Florida Attorney General Jim Smith, so they got together to talk about what could be done to provide legal representation to the condemned so that they could continue carrying out more executions.

As this umbrella of politically influenced circumstances came together, both governor Graham and Attorney General Jim Smith proposed establishing a state-funded agency that would be responsible for doing nothing but representing the condemned, sort of like a ‘public defenders” office.

By mid 1985 this state-funded agency came to exist as “Capital Collateral Representatives”. A small group of dedicated lawyers (director Larry Spalding, along with a staff of thee lawyers) were hired to run it. At first, to avoid any appearance of politically motivated conflict, the state allowed this small staff of lawyers free reign to manage the office, but as these original “CCR” lawyers proved very effective at aggressively representing the condemned and executions in Florida came to a sudden stop, the very politicians that originally advocated for the creation of this state-funded agency believing that it would serve to expedite more executions now began seeing it as an obstruction.

In 1986 pro-death penalty Republican Robert Martinez became governor in Florida and quickly adopted an insidious plan to circumvent the effectiveness if this “CCR” office. His policy was to simply sign numerous “death warrants” so that the minimally funded and staffed “CCR” office would be overwhelmed and rendered ineffective. Once again the rate of executions in Florida picked up.

But the pro-death penalty politicians in Florida’s capitol were now at open war with the rag-tag band of “idealists” who fought to prevent any executions. A then relatively new Republican politician by the name of “Chain gang Charlie” Crist led the political fight against this state-created “CCR” agency. As the years passed “Chain gang Charlie” built his political career feeding off the blood-lust lynch mob frenzy of the pro-death penalty advocates and eventually rode that wave all the way up the political ladder to where he is now – Florida’s elected governor.

With mounting political pressure, the original “CCR” director Larry Spalding was metaphorically tarred and feathered, and run out of town. By law, the governor was responsible for appointing a new director but could not so obviously appoint anyone too pro-death penalty for fear that to do so would create a legal challenge due to conflict of interest.

As the years passed this “CCR” office continued to fight the fight, but increasingly it was losing a battle. The agency was completely dependent upon state-funding and the pro-death penalty politicians increasingly invented new ways to limit their allotted budget as a means of choking off the lawyers ability to adequately represent the condemned clients. See Spalding v. Duggar, 526 So 2d 71 (Fla, 1988); State ex rel Butterworth v. Kenny, 714 So 2d 404 (Fla 1998); Arabalaez v. Butterworth, 738 So 2d 326 (Fla. 1999), etc.

In 1992 the Florida Supreme Court joined the political battle to restrain the lawyers assigned to represent the condemned and created the “Supreme Court Committee on Post Conviction Relief in Capital Cases”. The specific purpose of this committee was to identify and eliminate the causes of delay in executing those condemned to death. Consistent with this politically motivated agenda, the Florida Supreme Court formally adopted new rules governing capital post conviction appeals, and imposed a strict time limit for filing these capital appeals – one year if the condemned prisoners post conviction was not filed within that one year after the conviction became “final”, then the entire post conviction appeal was automatically “procedurally barred” and lost forever.

Because of the political interference, increasingly the lawyers responsible for representing the condemned were performing inadequately. Largely in part because of inadequate funding the attorneys did not fully develop and present the post conviction claims that should have been raised. As a result numerous death sentenced prisoners began to argue that the constitutionally protected right to “meaningful” post conviction review was being circumvented by the “ineffectiveness” of appointed post conviction counsel.

The argument that a death sentenced prisoner might be entitled to pursue a whole new post conviction appeal if he could establish that the lawyer the state provided did not provide reasonably competent representation and failed to raise claims that should have been raised suddenly threatened to undermine the pro-death penalty political efforts to expedite executions. Suddenly the statutorily created “right” to post conviction counsel arguably opened the door to the state being responsible if that appointed counsel failed to provide adequate representation.

The Florida Supreme Court knew that to recognize this argument would open the door to a virtual flood of new post conviction appeals, which would undoubtedly agitate the powerful pro-death penalty politicians. That simply could not happen. In this author’s own case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that claims that appointed post conviction counsel failed to provide ‘competent” representation were not cognizable
as there was no constitutional right to post conviction counsel in the first place, thus there could be no protected constitutional right to receive competent post conviction representation. Lambrix v. State 698 So2d 247 (Fla. 1996)

In plain English that means that the state of Florida only wanted to establish the pretense of post conviction representation – NOT the actual privilege of competent representation. In other words, the Florida Supreme Court decided that as long as they assign a lawyer to the case they have fulfilled any obligation – if by chance that lawyer proves to be completely incompetent, well – too bad.

Not surprisingly it didn’t take long after this absurd, politically motivated ruling for the pro-death penalty politicians and judges to invent yet another way to obstruct death-sentenced prisoners ability to pursue meaningful review of capital convictions. Once again under the fictions pretense of preserving the “fairness” of this corrupt process, and only after yet another politically motivated “commission” empaneled to find new ways to expedite executions “recommended” restructuring the state funded “CCR” office, the predominantly pro-death penalty Florida legislature rewrote Florida statistics, chapter 27 to “break up” the “CCR” office, and in its place create three separate “regional” offices.

These offices became known as “Capital Collateral Regional Counsel”. The North Florida office was known as “CCR-North”, the central Florida office as “CCR- Middle” and the southern Florida office was referred to as “CCR-South”. By law the Governor was responsible for appointing the director to each of these regional offices, and each director was obligated to answer to the newly created “Commission on Capital Cases” which is overseen by a board of directors comprised of – not surprisingly – pro-death penalty politicians. These changes brought with it a complete collapse of confidence in these state funded agency’s commitment to adequately and effectively provide post conviction representation. In all fairness, a number of lawyers previously employed by the original “CCR” office continued working in the regional offices and did all they could to provide adequate representation – but not without political consequences.

Systematically the “old school” lawyers who continued to aggressively represent Florida’s death sentenced prisoners were run out of the office, often deliberately replaced by former prosecutors and completely in-experienced lawyers. Increasingly the condemned prisoners sought to have these lawyers discharged due to incompetence, or even try to raise the necessary legal issues themselves (what is known as “pro se” filings)

But once again the arrogance of those so deliberately determined to corrupt the process in the interest of circumventing meaningful post conviction review rose to a whole new level when the pro-death penalty politicians became angry end even incensed when the CCRC-North office (under the direction of Michael Reiter) dared to successfully appeal numerous capital convictions, resulting in the Florida Supreme Court being compelled to throw out at least three condemned prisoners appeals (Barry Hoffman, Michael Mordenti and James Floyd) and two others were thrown out in the lower courts (Juan Melendez and Rudy Holton). All of these convictions were thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct used to wrongfully convict them. Juan Melendez, Rudy Holton and Michael Mordenti were all set free, while both Barry Hoffman and James Floyd “pled out” to lesser sentences. All five could now not be executed. Suddenly these rabid pro-death penalty politicians controlling the state funded offices responsible for representing Florida’s condemned were (metaphorically) foaming at the mouth – how dare these lawyers actually win these appeals, setting these “convicted killers” free! (so what if they were innocent!) Within months these politicians came up with yet another way to keep these lawyers in check – in blatant, politically motivated retaliation, these politicians abruptly eliminated the state funding for the CCRC –North Office, and closed it down. (the office that had won these appeals)

The political message was loud and clear – the lawyers employed by the state to provide post conviction representation to Florida’s condemned prisoners were not hired to provide competent representation, but rather only the pretense of representation if any of these lawyers dared to too aggressively represent their condemned clients they would find themselves unemployed. It was as simple as that.

Among the condemned prisoners, the knowledge that these lawyers were providing nothing more than a pretense of representation became only too clear in a desperate attempt p protect their own interests, those death row inmates that could began to file “pro se” supplemental appeals, arguing in these hand written legal “briefs” that their appointed post conviction counsel was not providing adequate representation, and attempting to raise the arguments themselves.

But once again the Florida Supreme Court acted with deliberate indifference to protect the politically corrupted capital post conviction process. Confronted with these “pro se” actions. The Florida Supreme Court literally invented a judicially created rule that specifically prohibits any prisoner from filing a pro se action if they are represented by legal counsel. Logan v. State, 846 So2d 472 (Fla. 2003)

Although Logan v. State actually was not a capital case involving a death sentenced prisoner, immediately the Florida Supreme Court began to aggressively apply this “Logan” rule to any pro se action submitted to the courts by death sentenced prisoners. See, Lambrix v. State, 900 So2d 553 (Fla. 2005), Lambrix v.State So2d (Fla 2007) (Fla Sct Case *SC06-0038)

Numerous death-sentenced prisoners, including myself, then moved to have these “CCRC” lawyers removed so that the necessary supplemental actions could be filed – only to have the Florida Supreme Court then apply the rule to automatically dismiss and strike these motions to discharge counsel. Incredibly, the Florida Supreme Court has now adopted the policy and practice of refusing to allow Florida’s death sentenced prisoners to discharge these “CCRC” lawyers, leaving death sentenced prisoners in Florida with virtually no means of protecting against the incompetence of appointed counsel, thus accomplishing a complete pretense of representation.

To illustrate this complete deprivation of the most basic concept of fundamental fairness I would encourage you to read in its entirety the action entitles “Petition for Declaratory and/or exercise of All-Writs”, which can be easily reviewed at www.southerninjustice.com/collateral-actions/ In this comprehensive petition, I specifically attempted to argue that the Constitution’s “Due Process” clause that governs the concept of “fundamental fairness” requires judicial recognition of protection against incompetence by appointed post conviction counsel before the
Incompetence results in the irreparable deprivation of meaningful post conviction review. Quite simply put, that the basic concept of fairness requires that the courts provide some means in which to allow death-sentences prisoners to fully present their post conviction appellate “claims” if appointed counsel is not doing so.

But once again I underestimated the pervasive political corruption within the Florida Supreme Court, naively believing that I could appeal to their sense of moral conscience, and compel the court to do what was right.

On march 11, 2009 the Florida Supreme Court ordered that my pro se Petition for Declaratory Judgment was an unauthorized pleading under Logan v. State, and ordered that this petition be stricken from the record.

As if that was not enough, I have now been informed that if I do continue to file any further legal actions attempting to challenge the competency of the CCRC counsel the State has appointed to represent me, that under Florida law I can and will be subjected to “disciplinary actions at the hands of prison officials under the pretense that since any and all pro se actions are now prohibited under this draconian “Logan” rule, any further filings will be deemed “frivolous”

What this means is that the Florida Supreme Court has now decided that to shut me up they will instruct the prison officials to subject me to inter-departmental disciplinary actions, which will result in me being placed in “disciplinary confinement” with a complete loss of any privileges (TV, radio, visits, canteen, reading/writing material, etc) for a period of 30 days each time I attempt to file any further action. Additionally, since I would have to mail any such action to the court, I would also be disciplined for “improper use of the mail” and will be subjected to suspension of all “mail privileges” (and contact/communication with the outside world) for up to 6 months for each alleged infraction.

This brings us to the complete resurrection of the infamous “Star Chamber”! By this I do not mean the Hollywood movie starring Michael Douglas as a corrupt judge who moonlights as a vigilante, stalking and killing those who have escaped justice by some legal technicality. Rather, I am referring to the infamous quasi-judicial tribunal that existed in England in the 16th century. In Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 821 - 23 (1975) a far more “liberal” US Supreme Court used the historical example of this draconian “Star Chamber” to conclude that a criminal’s right to address the court in person is fundamental, and cannot be denied. As the Supreme Court fully explained:

“ In the long history of the British jurisprudence there was only one tribunal that ever adopted a practice of forcing counsel upon an unwilling defendant in a criminal proceeding. The tribunal was the Star Chamber, that curious institution which flourished in the late 16th and 17th centuries, was of mixed executive and judicial character, and characteristically departed from common law traditions. For those reasons and because it specialized in trying “political” defenses, the Star Chamber has for centuries symbolized disregard for basic, individual rights. The Star Chamber not merely allowed, but required defendants to have counsel. The defendants answer to an indictment was not accepted unless it was signed by counsel. When counsel refused to sign the answer, for whatever reason, the defendant was considered to have confessed (See, J.Stephen, “A history of the criminal law in England”, 341-42 (1883) As Stephen commented on this procedure, “There is something especially repugnant to justice in using rules of practice in such a manner as to debar a prisoner from defending himself, especially when the object of the rules so used is to provide for his defense” (end quote)

Most people out there do not realize just how pathetically corrupt the death penalty process in America is. It’s no wonder that those most familiar with our judicial system such as former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan publicly admit that Florida has, and will continue to, execute innocent men and women.

Florida has deliberately re-created this infamous “Star Chamber”. There is no criminal penalty more “political” than capital punishment. Just as in England’s “star chamber”, the state of Florida has established a system of legal representation that is virtually controlled by pro-death penalty politicians who openly and intentionally manipulate the lawyers employed to represent these sentenced to death, so that these lawyers provide nothing more than a pretense of representation.

As with the “star chamber”, these lawyers cannot be discharged no matter how incompetent they might be, and by law (Florida Statutes, Chpt 27) they are prohibited from pursuing or raising any defense not specifically authorized under these statutory provisions. Like the infamous “star chamber”, these lawyers can be subjected to severe consequences if they attempt to prevent an unauthorized appeal, including the suspension of their license to practice law, thus depriving them of their livelihood.

Finally, just as with the Star Chamber, through he adoption of fundamentally unfair judicially created rules, the courts will only accept pleadings specifically filed by appointed counsel, and if such counsel screws up and fails to adequately present the appointed counsel, the condemned prisoner is prohibited from presenting the claims to the Florida courts himself, and ultimately will be put to death.

Bottom line – only the defense authorized by the State, and presented by the State controlled legal counsel are allowed. But this is not new – this has been going on for years, and yet not a single lawyer or organization has challenged this system.

You see, I don’t blame the pro-death penalty politicians and judges who openly use their political powers to manipulate and corrupt the process in their own agenda to expedite more executions even if it means putting innocent people to death. They are what they are, as that is their nature. They have no moral conscience. Rather, the ones truly responsible for the continued existence of such a blatantly corrupt system are the lawyers who represent the condemned prisoners. For the most part, they have sols out – they have become cowards, willing to stand by and watch their client drown yet
unwilling to simply pick up the rope and throw it in before their client goes under.

In have no doubt that the State paid and State controlled lawyers appointed to provide for my legal representation are fully aware that the manner in which my post conviction appeals have been, and continue to be, handled is ‘fundamentally unfair” and this corrupt process could be challenged in Federal Court – but these lawyers are not willing to pursue any action that might offend the political powers that control these state-funded offices, as they know that to do so will undoubtedly result in the office losing its funding. I suppose when it comes down to it, it is better to be paid to throw your client to the wolves than not be paid at all.

As I have previously quoted in other articles, as Abraham Lincoln so well said “Evil can only triumph when good men choose to do nothing”. I will continue to try to tread water as long as I can, but I know that ultimately it may very well be my fate to succumb into the dark, cold depths as those I must trust to save me stand idly by, watching as I sink deeper and deeper. If that is to be my inevitable fate, then I have but one final question to ask…to paraphrase the words that the father of democracy, the philosopher Socrates, once spoke to the corrupt tribunal that condemned him to die…..”to which of us go the worst fate – you or I?”

Mike Lambrix

Please check out my full case argueing my actual innocence, including all court records, trial transcripts, and appeal briefs at www.southerninjustice.net

More writings from Michael about life on death row 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Everybody’s Innocent

You know what my biggest problem is? It’s that everyone is innocent. There are no guilty men or women on death row. We are all innocent. So what if in most cases there was physical or forensic evidence, even eyewitnesses or a co-defendant who testified that they committed the crime together, and just as often the condemned man now claiming innocence actually confessed to the crime – we are all still innocent.

See, that’s just how most people see it – there are so many men and women on death rows across the county claiming that they are innocent that they dismiss all claims of innocence with a sarcastic “oh yeah – they are all innocent” Even the courts and media often respond to a claim of innocence with a yawn, followed by “here we go again”

The truth is that many who might claim innocence are not innocent. As case after case is picked apart and claims of innocence are discredited by the courted, the credibility of all claims of innocence is undermined. As we see case after case in which a condemned man or woman claims to be innocent in spite of overwhelming evidence the very concept of innocence itself is discredited and not surprisingly most of the public, the courts, and even the media become skeptical of all claims of innocence.

But I’m not throwing stones at those who claim innocence in spite of overwhelming evidence of their guilt. The fact is that in the 26 years that I have been on death row I have seen too many cases where men were convicted and condemned to death on what appeared to be solid evidence, only to later learn that the prosecutor deliberately fabricated evidence, of key witnesses had reason to lie, or alleged “confessions” wee not what they seemed to be.

In these many years I also have seen one thing above all else that convinces me that the state will knowingly and intentionally convict, condemn, and execute innocent people. That is that in almost 150 cases in which a condemned man or woman has been exonerated and released from death row, even when DNA evidence conclusively clears the wrongfully convicted of the crime, not even once has a state attorney admitted they made a mistake.

Maybe claims of innocence are being abused – but when our judicial system has such a well documented history of wrongfully convicting and condemning innocent people and those representing the state categorically refuse to acknowledge that they might have made a mistake, then how can any of us actually know with any measure of moral certainty who is innocent and who is not?

Many years ago a man named Frank Lee Smith came to Florida’s death row. He was convicted and condemned to death for the brutal rape and murder of an 8 year old girl in Broward County, Florida. The evidence seemed to be convincing despite the fact that Frank insisted he was innocent.

It didn’t help that Frank wasn’t exactly wrapped too tight to begin with, or that only a few weeks prior to this horrific crime he was released from prison. Those factors almost seemed to create a presumption of guilt. Since he was a bit nuts and an ex-con to boot, surely he had to be guilty? Besides, with his past criminal record who could believe his claim of innocence?

Frank spent about 16 years on Florida’s death row and that was not easy times as if being on death row itself wasn’t bad enough, Frank also caught pure hell from both other prisoners and guards because he was convicted of raping and killing a young child. In prison, baby killers are not very popular.

I am ashamed to admit that I was one of the many who deliberately shut Frank out. On death row most of the guys generally look out for each other. If you have coffee and your neighbor doesn’t, you give him a cup or two until he gets up on his own feet or if chow that night isn’t too good (and it never is!) maybe you split a pack of cookies with him

But Frank didn’t have much of nothing – and nobody wanted to look out for him. Like Dante’s “Inferno”, there are many levels of this hell we call “death row”. I was only one of too many who made Frank’s “hell” that much more unbearable by deliberately refusing to reach out to him as like so many others I judged him based upon what he was convicted of, and no matter how much frank protested his innocence, I completely dismissed it, refusing to give him the benefit of the doubt – the same benefit of doubt that I ask others to give to me.

How could I have been so wrong? As the many years passed, I knew only too well just how completely corrupt our judicial process is. I knew without any doubt what so ever that it is all too common for innocent men and women to be wrongfully convicted and condemned to death and yet in my admittedly small mind I made the decision that he had to be guilty because he was convicted.

About ten years ago I was transferred from the regular Florida death row at Union Correctional Institution to the maximum-security “x-wing” at Florida State Prison, where “high risk” death row inmates were kept. On the bottom floor of the “x-wing” (now renamed “Q-wing”) was Florida’s electric chair (“Ole Sparky”) and the “death watch” cells. On the two floors above the death chamber were a total of 24 cells for maximum security confinement.

As coincidence would have it, Frank was in a cell two cells away from me. There’s not a lot to do when you’re “locked down” on X-wing as you’re not allowed to have any TV, radio, magazines, books, or anything. So breaking many years of silence, I started talking to Frank, or at least I did when he could stay in touch with reality long enough to carry on a conversation as through the years Frank had “bugged out” as we call it.

I’ve long had a reputation as a “jailhouse lawyer” and guys regularly ask me for my help on legal matters. Most of the time I do what I can to help, even if its really nothing more than build their faith up and keep the hope alive.

Frank told me how many years his lawyers have been trying to compel the court in Broward county to do DNA tests and how his lawyers found out that the prosecutor had arrested another man for similar type of sex crimes in the same area where he allegedly raped and killed that little girl, and people who knew that other man were saying that he committed the crime Frank was convicted of, so he needed that evidence to finally prove his innocence. But the problem was that both the Broward County State attorney (prosecutor) and the Florida Attorney General office were refusing to allow his lawyers to do DNA tests on that evidence. Even though they knew this other man may have committed the crime Frank was convicted of, and the DNA evidence could conclusively prove who actually committed that crime, the state refused to even allow the evidence to be tested, and they did all they could to prohibit Frank’s lawyers from being able to test that DNA evidence.

To further compound this injustice, Frank was dying of cancer. Although I couldn’t see him through the concrete wall that separated us, Frank was crying as he told me he just wanted to prove his innocence and let everyone know he was not a baby-killer before he died. For many hours after he told me that, I could still hear him crying late into the night. For the first time in the many years that I had known Frank, I really felt for him. That next morning I gave him my breakfast tray.

A few months later I was transferred back to the main death row at union Correctional institution and I never say Frank again. Not long after that I heard that he had died of cancer, just as so many others do here in “the row”

Less than a year later I received a letter from a friend. She sent me an article from the Ft Lauderdale “Sun Sentinel” newspaper that told how almost a year after Frank Lee Smith died of cancer the DNA evidence his lawyers had fought to have tested for almost a full decade was finally tested – and not only did the result conclusively slow
That Frank was innocent all along, but the evidence also showed that the other man who was already in custody for similar crimes in the area actually committed the rape and murder of that young girl they convicted and condemned Frank for.

Subsequently the POS program “Frontline” did a special about the Frank Lee Smith case, and the tragedy of him spending 16 year on Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit – and how the state had deliberately obstructed his lawyers for almost a full decade, refusing to allow the DNA evidence that ultimately exonerated him to be tested.

You see, I do understand the skepticism that is all too common when we hear yet another death row prisoner protest his innocence. As a condemned prisoner protesting my own innocence even I fell into that trap of doubting Frank’s claims. But I was wrong. And I can’t help but wonder now if maybe I had given him the benefit of doubt, maybe – just maybe – it would have made a difference. I probably couldn’t have done much to help him in his legal fight and I couldn’t have cured his cancer. But I could have been a friend and by just doing that I could have made his days in this man-made hell just a little easier.

Looking back at how I treated Frank Lee Smith – how almost everyone on the row treated him – because I choose to dismiss his claims of innocence and did not give him the same benefit of doubt that I ask others to give me, I am ashamed. I could have been – and should have been – a better man than that as the truth is that I did not know whether he was innocent or not. Rather, I simply assumed that he had to be guilty. I was wrong.

To this day, now almost ten years later, this bothers me. But this experience also made me realize just how easy it is to become complacent, and even indifferent, to the claims of innocence we so often hear. Maybe everybody who claims to be innocent is not innocent - but how do we know who is and isn’t? What we do know without any doubt is that there are far too many men and women being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death - and we know that no matter how conclusive the evidence is that exonerates the wrongfully convicted, those working for the state will never admit they are wrong.

I ask that you check out a website featuring my case. Rather then ask you to believe me, I ask only that you examine the evidence for yourself and then decide. The entire trial transcripts and appeal briefs are all now posted on that website so you can fully review the entire case as if you are the jury. Then you decide - am I guilty or innocent? Please check it out at: www.southerninjustice.net

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When does Execution become Murder?

On February 11, 2009 the State of Florida put Wayne Tompkins to death by lethal injection at Florida State Prison. Tompkins had spent over 20 years on death row, of which at least the last six years were on “death watch” Through the years there have been many appeals, most of which focused on Tomkins’s consistently pled claim that he was not guilty of the alleged rape and murder of his then girlfriend’s 14 years old daughter.

The evidence against Tompkins was completely circumstantial. There were no witnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions to establish that Tompkins actually raped or killed the young woman. At trial the State convinced the jury of Tompkins’s guilt by calling upon another teenage girl who claimed that she had visited the house where Tompkins and the teen victim – her “best friend” – told her to “call the police” This witness then left, but did not call the police or contact anyone.

The body of the teen girl was later discovered concealed beneath the house where they had lived. But arguably because of decomposition no forensic evidence (DNA, hair etc) could be recovered.

At Tompkins’s trial nobody could say that they actually saw Tompkins kill the victim and nobody could say that she was the victim of a sexual assault. But as is only too common in questionably, wholly circumstantial cases, the State called upon a ‘jailhouse snitch” to testily that Tompkins confessed to him that he committed this crime. For those who are unfamiliar with what a “jailhouse snitch” is, it is another inmate who agrees to testify for the state to help convict someone in exchange for a reduced sentence in his (or her) crime.

The courts have consistently recognizes that the testimony of jailhouse snitches is highly unreliable. Basically you have a person in jail for committing a crime who knows that by ageing to testify that another prisoner “confessed” he will have his own sentence significantly reduced. Some courts have went as far as calling such testimony prosecutional prostitution, using these jailhouse snitches as whores paid to knowingly lie and send innocent men to their death just to help themselves.

In the Tampa Bay area where Tompkins was convicted and condemned to death, the local prosecutors had long relied upon “jailhouse snitches” to win convictions. As reflected in published cases a great number of these convictions were later overturned and in many cases it was later revealed that the “jailhouse snitch” deliberately fabricated the incriminating testimony, knowingly sending an innocent person to prison – and even to death row – just to win a reduced sentence on a crime they did commit.

Considering the well established unreliability of jailhouse snitch testimony, and the long history of unethical prosecutors using that they know is false testimony deliberately elicited by the lowest form of scum – those that would sell out their own mother just to avoid prison themselves – should we as moral society to be put to death upon the word of a jailhouse snitch?

I have been on death row myself now for almost 26 years. During that time I came to know Wayne Tompkins personally. As an American Native, he went by the name “Grey Cloud”. A few years back I introduced him to a female penpal who he later married. I think it’s fair to say that me and Grey Cloud were close, even perhaps “friends”. In all the time that I’ve known him he has always insisted that he did not kill that young woman.

Now does it make sense that only one prisoner out of thousands that Grey Cloud came to know through the years said he admitted his guilt? How is it that a man can be convicted and condemned to death on the word of this one inmate when many other prisoners would readily testify that Grey Cloud has always said that he was innocent?

Grey Cloud’s execution bothers me. Many of those that I’ve come to know through the quarter of a century here on Florida’s death row have been executed, or committed suicide, or died of natural causes and it’s never easy when someone you know passes on.

But what about when the state sanctioned execution becomes murder? The death penalty is a punishment imposed under law and exclusively dependent upon first finding that the person to be put to death actually did commit the crime of capital murder. Even then though, the death penalty can only be imposed if additional “ aggravating circumstances” are found and the jury hearing the evidence specifically recommends imposing the death penalty.

But nobody can deny that our judicial system is far less then perfect. In recent years at least 25 prisoners on Florida’s death row alone have been found to have been wrongfully convicted and then judicially exonerated and released from prison. Recently the ‘Innocence Project” has announced that just in the last decade they have proven the innocence of at least 200 men through DNA evidence. This undeniable virtual epidemic of injustice should compel any person of moral conscience to question the validity of any conviction based upon wholly circumstantial evidence. The fact is that as a civilized society we owe it to ourselves to insist that if we are going to put a person to death, there can not be any question of guilt. To allow any execution of a person whose guilt is not in question will inevidently result in the execution of an innocent person.

When capital punishment is carried out in the name of “We, the People” and never one innocent person is wrongfully executed, then we as a society are all guilty of cold-blooded murder. Maybe even in spite of my wrongful conviction I still remain na├»ve, but I like to believe - I got to believe – that we as a society are better than that.

That brings me to what also really bothered me about grey Cloud’s execution last week – his long pled claim of innocence wasn’t even an issue, not a single newspaper or television station even mentioned it although just a few months ago the Florida Supreme Court specifically addressed the claim of innocence in a published court opinion. Although obviously the court ruled against him on a legal technicality, the legitimate issue of innocence was not fully addressed and resolved.

What if Wayne Tompkins actually was innocent? What if yet again our judicial system made a mistake – only this time that mistake went uncorrected and we, as a society, just murdered an innocent man? Can even one person today step forward and declare under oath with absolute certainty based upon personal knowledge that Wayne Tompkins actually committed the murder that he has now been executed for?
Nobody can. Wayne Tompkins was not executed because the state proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, as is only too common, Wayne Tompkins was put to death because he couldn’t prove his innocence. Maybe Tompkins actually was guilty, but how do we know for sure? And if we don’t know for sure, then how do we know with moral certainty that we did not execute an innocent man?

No matter what side of the fence you stand on the issue of capital punishment, I know of no one who would argue that the execution of an innocent person is justified. But if we are not morally certain of the condemned man’s guilt, then how can we be certain that we didn’t just execute an innocent man?

I would ask you to check out my website www.southerninjustice.com and then ask yourself if we can really be sure that our courts are willing to protect against the execution of the innocent – or are our courts so politically corrupted that they will knowingly put innocent people to death?

Michael Lambrix

From The Official Blog of the Innocence Project of Florida, Inc.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

From a friend of Tompkins

Michael Lambrix has been on death row in Florida for 26 years. Today one of his journals is posted on the Death Row Journals blog here. He expresses sadness and disbelief over Wayne Tompkins' execution on February 11 of this year. Having known Tompkins personally, and referring to him by his Native American name "Grey Cloud," Lambrix explains that Tompkins' conviction was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, and he explains his more general misgivings over death sentences that are obtained all the time with such scant evidence. This was a particularly well-written section:

But nobody can deny that our judicial system is far less then perfect. In recent years at least 25 prisoners on Florida’s death row alone have been found to have been wrongfully convicted and then judicially exonerated and released from prison. Recently the ‘Innocence Project” has announced that just in the last decade they have proven the innocence of at least 200 men through DNA evidence. This undeniable virtual epidemic of injustice should compel any person of moral conscience to question the validity of any conviction based upon wholly circumstantial evidence. The fact is that as a civilized society we owe it to ourselves to insist that if we are going to put a person to death, there can not be any question of guilt. To allow any execution of a person whose guilt [is] in question will inevidently [sic] result in the execution of an innocent person.

The Maryland Senate took hesitant steps recently to assure that death sentences could only be handed down in cases where there was biological evidence, a taped confession, or a taped crime. That is a meaningful step, but it does not go far enough.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Florida Convict Isn't Joking This Time

By Natalie O'Neill in Miami New Times
Wednesday, Mar. 4 2009 @ 8:55AM

When death row inmate Michael Lambrix applied to be a Florida Supreme Court Justice in January, the nominating committee had a good laugh. "It's tongue-in-cheek," said Chair Robert Hackleman - and it probably was. (Lambrix wrote: "My biggest qualification...is that I'm the only applicant that has been totally screwed by the justice system.")

But it seems the chuckles ensuing from lawyers and judges have now faded into an uncomfortable silence. This past February 9, the litigious convict scrawled a 26-page motion "to Disqualify the Entire Florida Supreme Court." He demanded it be filed appropriately and addressed in a timely manner. His claim: Chief Justice Peggy Quince helped prosecute his murder case in the 1980s. It has since come to light -- he says -- that the team of lawyers acted unethically. He writes: "Numerous documents [that show] the state knowingly withheld evidence"

Researcher Mike Hickey - who has followed the case out of sheer curiosity --is taking Lambrix seriously. "The fact that he has turned down offers for a reduced sentence twice shows he is serious about his innocence claims."

The clerk's office of the Supreme Court has since processed the inmate's complaint. Problem is, they're not quite sure what to call it. For now it's filed under "other."

Torres says:
Read his website 'southerninjustice.net for his full case history and recent motions.

Apart from Peggy Quince, Lambrix also criticizes these people:
Miles Daniels investigator who had sex with state witness Smith during trial.
Randall McGruther- prosecutor who manufactured evidence against Lambrix.
Carol Dittmar Senior Assistant State Attorney who filed actions saturated with deliberate deceptions and factual misrepresentations intended to deceive the Supreme Court.
Posted On: Thursday, Mar. 5 2009 @ 7:24PM Jan Arriens says:
Lambrix's stand needs to be taken very seriously indeed. I have been corresponding with him for 18 years and have met him three times. His story has never wavered. I know him as a man of exceptional courage, intelligence and, yes, integrity. His account of what happened makes a whole lot more sense than of the State. Killing two people without a gun - strangling and then striking a blow - is not easy. Does the second victim wait around calmly until it's their turn?

Posted On: Friday, Mar. 6 2009 @ 2:34PM

karen says:
This case has all the features of a classical wrongful conviction.

1. Ineffective trial counsel who had never represented a capital case before (Jacobs).
2 Hanging judge with bias against capital defendants. (Stanley)
3. Small town jury with links to victims and law enforcement officers.
4. Married investigator Daniels having sexual relationship with both state witness Smith and Co-investigator Mitar.
5. Manufactured evidence.
6. Lost fingernail clippings of victim which would provide DNA evidence.
7. State witness Smith illegally offered immunity for testimony.
8. State witness Hanzel coerced to testify- recanted in 1998.
9. Defendant Lambrix denied right to testify.
10. Judge refused to allow cross examination of chief state witness so as not to 'confuse' jury over her many fabrications.
11. Totally ineffective 'direct appeal' counsel which made it impossible for Lambrix to get relief in subsequent appeals.

The list goes on and can be read on southerninjustice.net which has full trial and appeal transcripts online.

Shame, Florida, shame.

Posted On: Saturday, Mar. 7 2009 @ 4:20AM

Torres says:

Well may the chuckles of lawyers and judges be fading as Lambrix methodically exposes the malfeasance and misconduct of some of the highest legal professionals in Florida.

Be alert-
Randall McGruther Chief Assistant State Attorney- investigated for unethical misconduct and chief prosecutor of Lambrix.

Be alert
Carol Dittmar- Senior Assistant state Attorney whom Lambrix accuses of 3 incidents of unethical conduct. See http://www.southerninjustice.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/bar.pdf for full complaint.

Be alert
Peggy Quince- Chief justice for unethical misconduct in his case.

This 'litigious convict' is only seeking justice after a 25 year miscarriage of justice which sent him to death row.

Posted On: Saturday, Mar. 7 2009 @ 5:01AM