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

Monday, November 8, 2010

Screw the Truth – Execute the Innocent

Don’t you just hate it when inconvenient truths get in the way of killing people? Where do people get off thinking that carrying out executions has anything to do with such concepts as “truth and justice”? When it comes down to it, capital punishment is not about whether someone is guilty or actually innocent – it’s about the “politics of death” and feeding our twisted societies primitive need for vengeance. When a brutal crime occurs, we need to know someone will be held accountable and we are driven to find great satisfaction in knowing the crime has been avenged. That’s just human nature, and whether or not the person we ultimately put to death for the crime actually committed the crime really is not even relevant. The only thing that really matters is that we get our proverbial ‘pound of flesh”

In fact, we don’t even want to know that we may have executed an innocent man. Such an inconvenient truth completely undermines our fundamental need to believe in our judicial system. If we are forced to confront the truth then our own support for the death penalty makes us personally complicit in this morally and legally justified act of murder carried out in our name.

But most of us are good people of moral character and we would find it troubling that an innocent person was put to death for a crime he did not commit. We really don’t need to be weighted down by that moral baggage and so we choose to learn form the ostrich – we stick our heads in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen.

But the tragic truth is that it does happen and ignoring this truth won’t make it go away. By choosing to ignore the imperfection of our judicial system, we do become personally responsible for the execution of an innocent person. This truth can not be denied as if only more people would stand up and speak out against a system that refuses to admit its own mistakes then those we entrust to prosecute questionable cases will be forced to understand that both as individuals and as a civilized society, even the execution of one innocent person is not acceptable.

This past week, renowned bestselling author John Grisham released his latest book, entitled “The confession”. In this fictional story, Grisham writes of a 19 year old Donte Drumm, who found himself accused of the brutal murder of a local pretty young cheerleader in the small town of Slone, Texas.

Donte Drumm insisted that he is innocent – but what does innocence have to do with it? Without any real evidence, Drumm went straight to Texas death row. As the years pass, Drumm’s desperate appeals proclaiming his innocence are denied by one court after another and 8 years later Drumm finds himself facing imminent execution. Only then does the real killer have a crisis of conscience and comes forward to confess. But nobody wants to hear it. As we know only too well, prosecutors absolutely never admit they were wrong, and our courts never admit that a person might be innocent. Although innocent, Drumm never had a chance, as in our judicial system the puppet master would much rather execute an innocent person than to admit even the possibility of error.

This is not the first time Grisham wrote a bestselling book that tells the story of an innocent man being wrongly convicted and condemned to death, only to have evidence substantiating innocence deliberately ignored by the courts and the injustice intentionally perpetuated by the very people (judges and prosecutors) we trust to protect the innocent.

In John Grisham’s 2006 work, “The Innocent Man” Grisham told the true story of Ron Williamson, an aspiring high school athlete with a promising career ahead of him – until he suddenly found himself charged with capital murder in the state of Oklahoma and quickly convicted and condemned to death in spite of his innocence.

Only years later was DNA evidence discovered that not only proved Williamson was innocent but also revealed the true killer. But nobody wanted to hear it and both the prosecutor and the courts refused to admit that they could have made such a mistake. The only possible explanation was that either the DNA evidence had to be wrong, or maybe Williamson acted with this other person. To silence these claims of innocence, the state became that much more determined to expedite Williamson’s execution.

This is not at all surprising. For too long now this is how the American judicial system protects itself from having its mistakes exposed…they simply create new court rules and laws to limit post conviction appeals so that the evidence of innocence cannot be heard. By denying the wrongfully convicted any chance of proving their innocence, the errors are forever concealed.

Most recently this was the case in Texas when Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death. Willingham was convicted and condemned to death for allegedly setting fire to his own home, killing his own two young daughters. There were no eyewitnesses or confessions – but the local, small Texas town fire Marshall conducted his own investigation and concluded that the fire was deliberately set. This fire Marshall had no actual training in arson investigations, but that didn’t stop him from testifying in court that there was no question that the house was deliberately set on fire. To seal Willingham’s fate, the state brought in a prisoner from the local county jail who testified that Willingham told him that he had indeed set the house on fire to kill his two young daughters and did it to strike back at his wife after they had an argument.

Willingham insisted that he was innocent and that he didn’t know how the fire actually started. He testified that after seeing the smoke, he tried to get into the house to save his children, but couldn’t. The jury refused to believe him and court after court rejected his claim of innocence.

Shortly before Willingham was executed, some of the top arson investigators in the country were brought in to re-examine the case. Virtually every one of these experts concluded that the local fire Marshall was wrong and that the evidence showed that the fire was started by an electrical short – it was a tragic accident, and Willingham was innocent of murder as no murder occurred.

But the Texas courts didn’t want to hear it and refused to allow the evidence to be heard. Willingham was executed in 2004. Only after his execution did the evidence of his innocence catch the attention of the media, and the question of whether Texas executed an innocent man started to be taken seriously.

As the controversy build, Texas governor Perry formed a panel of experts to finally review the evidence to determine whether Willingham was innocent. This “commission on forensic science” thoroughly studied the evidence and reached the inconvenient conclusion that Willingham was innocent – that the State of Texas had deliberately put an innocent man to death.

But it was an election year and Perry was running for re-election. In Texas the death penalty is all about politics and you cannot win an election by seeming soft on convicted murderers or admitting you made a mistake. Using the power of his office, shortly before the Texas “commission on forensic science” was to public ally release its report declaring Willingham innocent, Governor Perry abruptly fired the panel and appointed his own hand picked political insiders. Once again, the inconvenient truth of innocence was suppressed by the insidious politics of death.

In John Grisham’s book “The Confession” he writes that “death row is a nightmare for serial killers and ax murderers – but for an innocent man, it’s a life of mental torture that the human spirit is not equipped to survive”

I know only too well of the eternal mental anguish of being a condemned man, convicted and sentenced to death for a crime I did not commit. In my main website, www.southerninjustice.net my supporters have posted my entire case – complete trial transcripts, appeal briefs, etc and the evidence supporting my actual innocence.

In my recently published book “To Live and Die on Death Row” by C Michael Lambrix (available online for free at www.lulu.com) I graphically detail what life is like on death row, the never ending torment of being in solitary confinement for over 27 years and the relentless struggle to maintain my sanity as one court after another refuses to even hear the wealth of evidence substantiating my innocence, see also my secondary blog, www.doinglifeondeathrow.blogspot.com.

The past month my lawyers filed a “last ditch” appeal to the United States Supreme Court arguing specifically that they must order the lower courts to allow my evidence of innocence to be heard – or I will be executed for a crime I did not commit. But will the Supreme Court even listen? I can only hope they will. You can personally read this recently filed appeal at www.supremecourtinnocenceappeal.blogspot.com

But my faith in our judicial system to protect the innocent and even in the nature of humanity in general is suffering. If I have learned nothing else over the many years, it is that too many feel “screw the truth – just execute the innocent”

Please check out my website http://www.southerninjustice.net

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Simple Trip to the Doctor

It seemed like a simple trip to see the doctor. When you're in prison it's not like you must go across town or even further just to see the doctor for a routine check-up as the doctor's office is inside the prison. But anyone familiar with with how a maximum security prison is actually operated would know there is no such thing as a simple trip to the doctor. Nothing is that simple if it is not in the prison's interest to make access to even minimal medical care that easy.

Before I was sent to prison I was in the military and suffered an injury while on duty at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1978. This led to my early discharge and a permanent disability resulting in chronic lower back pain. Through the many years that I've been on Florida's death row I have consistently received treatment for this well documented disability, even though it was only minimal treatment in the form of providing prescriptions to general pain killers like extra strength Ibuprofen or Naproxen.

Throughout the now almost 30 years of incarnation, I have been examined by many prison doctors and not one has disputed my lenghty medical history of extreme and often physically dishabilitating chronic lower back pain - at least not until I ran across Dr. G.A Espino.

Dr. Espino is a licened physician, and chief medical officer primarily operating out of Colombia Correctional, another state prison in the adjacent county. It is his job to find ways to save the prison system money by reducing the medical care provided to inmates unfortunate enough to be incarcenated in one of Florida's prisons under his control.

On Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 I was awoken at 5:30 in the morning and told that I had a medical callout, and asked whether I wanted to go. I'm sure that they would have preferred it if I said "no" and effectively waived medical treatment. But I had to go as the Naproxen I take for the lower back pain had run out and I had to get the prescription renewed.

Shortly after breakfast (about 6:30) they came to get me. I knew the routine only too well - at Florida's State Prison, anytime you are pulled from your cell for a "callout" (medical, legal visit, social visit, etc) you must first be placed in hndcuffs, waist chains and black box, as well as heavy legg shackles. Once secured, they then pull you from your cell, and the trip begins. But since it's a medical callout, thet're going to make this trip as unpleasant and physically torturous as possible. This meant that I would not be brought directly to the clinic way up at the front of the prison almost half a kilometer away, that would be way too easy. So, under the pretense of not having an escort available, I was removed from my cell, walked about 20 feet, then placed in the shower cell for about an hour, all the while being kept in the chains and shackles.

Finally I was brought off the wing and began the slow and painful shuffle up the main hall towards the distant clinic, the heavy iro leg shackles now painfully cutting into my ancles, soaking my sock with blood.

When I finally reached the main clinic, I was again placed in a "holding cage" not more than the size of a small cardboard box (approx 2' x 2'), with no means of ventilation even though the Florida summer made the heat unbearable. But there I remained for at least 3 hours, alongside numerous other prisoners cramped ino identical small steel cages, sharing my same fate.

It was almost noon before I fnally was escorted into the airconditioned office and seen by Dr Espino. to my surprise, he wasn't interested in discussing my medical condition, but rather wanted to share with me his thoughts of a book recently released " To live and die on death row", by C Michael Lambrix, and my ritical opinion of Florida's prison system, especially the cess pool of humanity known as Florida State Prison.

After his unsolicied tirade, he then informed me that he was done and called for the guard to return me to the small holding cage to now await an escort back to my cell at the far end of the building. Altogether, this simple trip to see the doctor lasted almost 8 hours, during which time I was continiously kept in the iron shackles and chains, both my ankles bloody and my wrists bruised. Several days later when I still had not received the renewed prescription for the only pain medication I was provided for many years, I was only then informed that Dr Espino had terminated my prescription for no apparent reason but that he didn't appreciate some of what I said in my recently published book. Since he couldn't just physically assault me without a lot of paperwork, he did the next best thing to inflict physical pain upon me - deliberately taking away my pain medication.

I filed the standard "Emergecy Medical Grievance" to the prison warden, but I already know that he will automatically rubberstamp it "denied" as that's just how it goes here. (and this is what happened also...)

Cary Michael Lambrix #482053
Death Row
Florida State Prison

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Hypocrisy of Animal Rights Advocates

What a twisted world we do live in. Recently I read an editorial in the ‘USA Today’ entitled “What’s the Godly Way to Treat Animals" by an American Baptist preacher, Oliver Thomas (USA Today, Monday June 14, 2010) in which Mr. Thomas referred to our society’s indifference to the cruel treatment of animals as a ‘moral blind spot’ that compromises the moral fabric of our society itself.

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi as saying “the moral fiber of a society is best gauged by how we treat our animals,” Mr. Thomas used examples of how we as a society must push for laws to protect animals from cruelty and graphically describes some of the inhumane abuses animals are all too often subjected to (ie “one of the saddest outcomes is a dog that is chained and left in the backyard. A tethered dog lives in utter misery without physical or mental stimulation...And that is how we treat the animals we love. As for animals we raise for food consumption, my guess is that few Americans have any inkling of the horror these poor animals endure.”)

Mr. Thomas then encourages his readers “to join the growing list of cities and states that have banned or placed restrictions on chaining animals- like Texas- or that have banned the most inhumane practices- like Florida and California.”

I’m not saying Mr. Thomas is wrong. I too think all animals should be treated humanely as a natural extension of the inherent sanctity of life. But I have to admit that over the many years I have grown to hold those such as Mr. Thomas, the ‘Humane Society’ and the organization ‘PETA’ (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in contempt. The truth of the matter is that most of these people who scream about treating animals humanely are nothing but hypocrites. By selectively advocating only the politically popular concept of ‘animal rights’, they have proved themselves to be cowards unwilling to speak out against the inhumane treatment of millions of prisoners here in America.

The inconvenient truth about the epidemic of animal cruelty in America today is that it is a direct extension of who we really are as a collective society. The majority of Americans today- including the majority of members of the ‘Humane Society’ and PETA deliberately turn a ‘moral blind eye’ towards the widespread abuse of prisoners in American jails and prisons, and don’t see the relationship between the abuse of animals and the abuse of prisoners.

As long as we continue to choose to be a society in which it is acceptable, and even encouraged to treat prisoners like animals, then how can we expect members of our society to treat animals humanely?

I have now personally spent 27 years in continuous solitary confinement: in a six foot concrete and steel cage that under applicable state law it would be illegal to put a dog in. I have been denied any outdoor exercise, or even a moment or sunlight, for years at a time. I have been brutally beaten, and chained and shackled until I bled, and have not touched a blade of grass or dirt in over a quarter of century. And I am not alone, as this is how prisoners in America are treated every day.

Mr. Thomas argues that we should join states like Texas that now make it a crime to chain a dog in your backyard. However, he does not point out that Texas also executes more prisoners than all the other states combined, including many who may very well have been innocent. In Texas, prisoners are routinely put in chains and shackles, and led out to state run farms to work under conditions comparable to a southern slave plantation.

Perhaps before Mr. Thomas gets all giddy about how ‘humane’ Texas is, he should take a few minutes to read the 100 page plus Federal Court opinion of Ruiz v Estelle, 679 F.2d 1115 (5th Gr., 1982) (available on www.findlaw.com), in which it graphically details the systemic abuse of prisoners in the Texas prison system, including a routine practice of chaining prisoners to a post in the open sun for hours, even days, at a time.

Mr. Thomas commends Florida for passing laws that prohibit keeping animals under physically and psychologically oppressive conditions that would be a criminal act if only prisoners would be legally protected as ‘animals’.

Again, before Mr. Thomas encourages his readers to embrace Florida’s ‘humane’ ways of treating animals, Mr. Thomas should spend a day taking a tour of Florida State Prison, where at least a thousand prisoners have been held in long term solitary confinement under conditions so brutal that the vast majority are under psychiatric medication just to cope. Anyone who wants to read about how prisoners are routinely treated at Florida State Prison should read the Federal court opinion in Valdes v. Crosby, 450 F.3d. (11th Gr.)

But nobody dares to speak out about the cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners as that is not politically popular. In our society today, it’s one thing to show compassion and mercy towards a cute little kitten, or a sad eyed puppy dog. But all too often these same animals’ rights advocates will foam at the mouth and respond with anger, or even violence, towards those who suggest that perhaps even prisoners should be treated humanely, too.

With their twisted logic, they will argue that animals are defenceless creatures in need of protection- and prisoners are responsible for whatever punishment brought upon themselves. I personally find it amusing when these people twist logic around to justify the way prisoners are routinely treated and why animals should be protected- but not prisoners.

The fact is that if the ‘USA Today’ newspaper (which is the most widely circulated newspaper in America) was to publish an editorial that called for the ethical and humane treatment of prisoners, then they would be flooded with hate mail from mobs of angry readers who see advocating the humane treatment of prisoners as a ‘bleeding heart liberal’ agenda.

So, the mainstream media and editorial writers like Mr. Thomas will not say a word about the ethical and humane treatment of prisoners. As long as they stick to kitty cats and puppy dogs, their message will be embraced and they will be seen as honorable leaders of moral integrity.

That, Mr. Thomas, is the true ‘moral blind spot’ in America today. Perhaps one day our society will evolve enough to understand that only by learning to treat each other humanely can there be any hope of raising our social and moral conscience towards the manner in which God’s lesser creatures are treated.

As long as we continue to be a society that aggressively advocates the inhumane treatment of millions of prisoners, and elect politicians upon their promise to be ‘tough on crime’ by inflicting misery and pain upon those we see as ‘criminals’, there will always be a significant percentage of our society that will never develop a concept of respect for the humane and ethical treatment of animals. Those who think they can have it both ways are just pissing in the wind. Only by advocating and demanding that we treat each other, even prisoners, humanely can there be any hope to live in a society that will treat all forms of life humanely.

Michael Lambrix #482053

Florida State Prison

7819 NW 228th St (death row)

Raiford, Florida 32026-1160

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mike's book published!

To Live and Die on Death Row by Michael Lambrix, Mike's experiences, thoughs, hopes, opinions, despair and injustice during the 27 years he has been locked up on Florida's death row.

"The autobiography of C.Michael Lambrix, an innocent man who has spent 27 years under sentence of death on Florida's infamous death row. "

The book can be ordered here
and here

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Florida Court Denies Lambrix's Innocence Appeal

After denying review and final disposition of Michael Lambrix’s state post conviction appeal arguing newly discovered evidence that substantiates Lambrix’s consistently pled claim of innocence for many years, in a bizarre and even absurd ruling the Florida Supreme Court has categorically denied all relief, finding that the virtual wealth of evidence presented by Lambrix is not credible. See, Lambrix v. State, 2010 WL 1488028 (Fla.) (opinion released on April 15th, 2010)

As those who have followed this wholly circumstantial capital case already know, and as the state has repeatedly conceded itself, the state’s entire case was based upon the testimony of Lambrix’s estranged ex-girlfriend Frances Smith-Ottinger. Although, Lambrix’s conviction and sentence of death were exclusively based upon the credibility of Smith-Ottinger, in denying Lambrix relief the Florida Supreme Court has now declared Smith-Ottinger “not credible.” Of course, the court has made no attempt to explain how in a wholly circumstantial case (no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, no confessions, etc.) dependent upon the credibility of a single key witness; the capital conviction and sentence of death can still be upheld when the same witness has now been declared “not credible.”

Apparently, the Florida Supreme Court’s concept of credibility is flexible and subjectively applied – as long as a witness is providing favorable testimony for the state to secure a conviction, even in a wholly circumstantial case; the witness is credible. But if and when that same witness provides testimony contrary to the interests of the state, then the witness is not credible. That is how justice is administered in Florida.

The Florida Supreme Court’s absurd conclusions actually are not about whether or not the state’s key witness Smith-Ottinger is credible. What this case is really about is the Florida Supreme Courts unethical and constitutionally reprehensible protection of the Florida Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, Peggy Quince. If putting an innocent man to death is necessary to protect Chief Justice Quince from allegations of misconduct, then so be it.

Although not mentioned in the recent denial of relief, but fully detailed in the appeal briefs submitted in this case; Chief Justice Peggy Quince was previously an Assistant Attorney General and part of the prosecution team during Lambrix’s initial post conviction proceedings prior to her political appointment to the Florida Supreme Court. (All appeal briefs in this case can be found and read under the hearing-briefs tab at SouthernInjustice.net)

In her former capacity, Chief Justice Quince was (“allegedly”) personally complicit in the prosecutorial misconduct in this capital case. Lambrix filed a motion to disqualify the Florida Supreme Court (click here to read this motion in its entirety), which the Florida Supreme Court summarily denied even though their own recent decision in other cases, required disqualification; see, Wickham v. State, 998 So. 2d 593 (Fla. 2008). Apparently the Florida Supreme Court is not bound by its own established law.

What is clear by the Florida Supreme Courts ruling is they would rather put an innocent man to death than risk having Chief Justice Quinces own alleged acts of misconduct exposed. The fact that the Florida Supreme Court refused to even address the virtual wealth of evidence presented (see, appeal briefs) and the pled allegations of prosecutorial misconduct that collectively establish that the key witness Smith-Ottinger and the states lead investigator conspired and collaborated together to deliberately fabricate this wholly circumstantial case of alleged premeditated murder shows the Florida Supreme Court simply will not allow their Chief Justice’s own complicity in this deliberate miscarriage of justice to even be discussed.

At trial, in addition to Smith-Ottinger’s testimony that Lambrix told her that he had killed the two deceased, apparently “to take their car,” (which it should be noted, this vehicle was subsequently found in the exclusive possession of Smith-Ottinger, not Lambrix), the state presented testimony from Deborah Hanzel, who testified that Lambrix has also told her that he killed the couple to take the car. However, Hanzel has since provided sworn testimony that her trial testimony was deliberately fabricated – that key witness Smith-Ottinger and the state’s investigator deliberately coerced her to provide this false testimony in a conspiracy to ensure that Lambrix would be convicted and to protect Smith-Ottinger from prosecution herself. (Deborah Hanzel’s sworn affidavit can be read in its entirety by clicking here.)

The Florida Supreme Court now finds that Hanzel’s testimony that she was coerced to provide false testimony is “not reliable” and of course the court conveniently refused to consider any of the evidence that supports Hanzel’s claim that the key witness Smith-Ottinger and the state worked together to deliberately fabricate the entire wholly circumstantial theory of alleged premeditated murder – evidence that if fully and fairly addressed cannot be credibly disputed.

Again the Florida Supreme Court relies upon the absurd conclusion that when Deborah Hanzel testified for the state, she was the epitome of credibility – but now that she has provided sworn testimony detailing how the key witness Smith-Ottinger and the state had coerced her to provide false testimony, and that they knew all along Lambrix was not guilty of premeditated murder, the Florida Supreme Court finds that Hanzel is not a reliable witness. This is the unwritten rule of law – as long as a witness is providing favorable testimony for the state, then they are credible. If the witness admits to being coerced to lie by the state, then they are no loner credible.

Nothing reflects the Florida Supreme Courts deliberate hypocrisy and distortion of the truth more than the manner in which the Florida Supreme Court addressed Lambrix’s own post conviction testimony. What makes Lambrix’s consistently pled claim of innocence unique is that Lambrix has admitted to being in the company of the two people who were killed and that Lambrix was compelled to hit the male victim only after the make victim attacked and was assaulting the much younger female victim.

Lambrix’s claim of a spontaneous event forcing him to act involuntary self defense when attacked by Clarence Moore/ aka Lawrence Lamberson when Lambrix attempted to stop Moore/Lamberson from violently assaulting the teenage victim Aleisha Bryant is actually supported by the State own evidence, and the state has never provided any evidence to contradict this claim. In fact, the state knew all along that Moore/Lamberson was a career criminal and known associate of “drug smugglers” with a criminal history of violently assaulting other women in the same manner. A fact that the jury was not allowed to hear.

At Lambrix’s trial, the court prohibited Lambrix from testifying so the jury was never allowed to hear Lambrix’s account of what actually happened. It should be noted that key witness Smith-Ottinger also testified that she did not actually see or hear anything that transpired outside that night that led up to and resulted in the couple’s death. Her only claim was that Lambrix subsequently told her he had killed both of them.

During the post conviction proceedings Lambrix was finally provided an opportunity to testify and did then graphically testify to what actually happened outside. As the record shows, the state could not discredit Lambrix’s claim of self defense.

In the recent order denying relief the Florida Supreme Court (at page 11) “Lambrix himself (testified) at this most recent evidentiary hearing that he struck one of he victims using a tire iron, although he denied that he intended to kill either victim.” Incredibly, the Florida Supreme Court actually twisted Lambrix’s own testimony into somehow being a confession of guilt of premeditated murder.

In doing so, the Florida Supreme Court completely ignored the overwhelming weight of the evidence that actually substantiates Lambrix’s claim. As reflected in the trial transcript, the jury was not allowed to know that Moore/Lamberson (the male deceased) had an extensive criminal history, including violently assaulting women. The jury did hear Smith-Ottinger’s own testimony that there was virtually no indication of animosity or intent to commit any crime, between any of the parties. In fact, Smith-Ottinger conceded that Lambrix, Moore/Lamberson and Bryant were “laughing, teasing, and playing around” immediately before Lambrix and Moore/Lamberson went outside during the early morning hours.

Smith-Ottinger specifically testified that Lambrix remained outside with Moore/Lamberson for approximately 20 minutes then returned to the trailer they shared alone. At that time Smith-Ottinger was absolutely certain that Lambrix did not have any blood on him, was not in possession of the alleged murder weapon (a common tire iron) and “looked normal.” According to Smith-Ottinger, Lambrix then went outside again with Aleisha Bryant as she remained inside alone cooking a spaghetti dinner.

Smith-Ottinger claims that Lambrix again returned alone, but this time was “covered with blood” and was carrying the tire iron, and told her “They’re dead” then proceeded to wash up. Smith-Ottinger has consistently claimed that she did not actually hear of see anything that transpired outside and only knows that Lambrix told her he killed them, but she also insisted that “he never said why.”

For this reason, only Lambrix knows what really happened outside. But by looking at the State’s own evidence, it becomes clear that Lambrix’s claim of being compelled to spontaneously act in self defense when attempting to stop Moore/Lamberson from fatally assaulting Aleisha Bryant is, in fact, supported by this undisputed evidence.

At trial key witness Smith-Ottinger testified that Lambrix told her that he had “choked the girl” and had “hit the in the back of the head.” But the states own medical examiner Dr. Robert Shultz concluded that there was no evidence to show that Aleisha Bryant was “choked” or strangled to death. In fact, it is a medical certainty that if a victim is choked or strangled to death, there will be evidence to show this such as hemorrhaging/bruising around the neck and damage to the soft tissue and larynx as well as probable fracture of the hyoid cartilage. And if a person is strangled to death, there will always be “peticule hemorrhaging” visible in the eyes. But medical examiner Shultz found no evidence of any of these tell-tale signs, thus Smith-Ottinger’s claim that Lambrix choked or strangled Bryant cannot be true.

Although a witness might lie, this type of evidence does not. Additionally, it is inconceivable that a healthy young woman who was not restrained in any manner would simply stand by and allow herself to be assaulted and killed without struggling and fighting for her life. Smith-Ottinger has consistently conceded that Lambrix did not have any scratches or bruises on him that would have been consistent with a struggle with Bryant.

However, the state’s own medical examiner Dr. Schultz conceded that Moore/Lamberson actually did have numerous scratches and lacerations consistent with what Bryant would have undoubtedly inflicted if he had struggled with Aleisha Bryant as Lambrix claimed he did.

Further, the medical examiner Dr. Schultz concluded that Aleisha Bryant did not suffer any physical injuries that would have resulted in a substantial loss of blood. (Smith-Ottinger was certain that Lambrix did not have any blood on him when returning to the trailer after Moore/Lamberson went outside, but before Aleisha Bryant went outside). But Dr. Schultz concluded that Moore/Lamberson did have numerous injuries that would have resulted in substantial loss of blood. Thus the only way that Lambrix could have been “covered in blood” after Bryant went out but not before was if Moore/Lamberson was still alive outside when Bryant went out — supporting Lambrix’s claim that all three were together outside and it was a spontaneous event that resulted in their deaths, not “premeditated murder.”

The states own evidence substantiating Lambrix’s claim that he was compelled to act in self defense when attacked by Moore/Lamberson is even stronger. As the trial transcript reflects, the state’s own medical examiner, Dr. Schultz, testified that Moore/Lamberson died as the result of blunt force trauma – being hit in the head with an object consistent with the tire iron.

However, Dr. Schultz testified with absolute certainty that Moore/Lamberson was struck eight times, specifically, that Moore/Lamberson died as the result of “multiple crushing blows to the head… resulting in severe fractures around the eyes and the cheeks,” and that these blows consisted of “eight (blows) – four times to the left frontal forehead, and four times to the right … applied in a continuous side to side motion.” (See, trial transcript, testimony of Dr. Robert Schultz)

More importantly, Dr. Schultz found virtually no evidence of any “defensive wounds,” and all of these blows were administered with Moore/Lamberson facing his assailant, leaving the only logical conclusion that – just as Lambrix claimed, Moore/Lamberson was coming at him and Lambrix was forced to swing in spontaneous self defense.

As if this evidence itself was not enough to substantiate Lambrix’s consistently pled claims of involuntary self defense, while ignoring the overwhelming weight of this irrefutable evidence the Florida Supreme Court also refused to acknowledge the conclusive evidence that key witness Smith-Ottinger and the state did deliberately fabricate evidence to support their allegations of premeditated murder with the intent and purpose of having Lambrix wrongfully convicted and condemned to death.

Specifically, as reflected in the trial transcript, Smith-Ottinger testified that Lambrix had deliberately placed Aleisha Bryant “face down in a pond” to ensure that she would die. This testimony was used to convince the jury that there was no doubt that Lambrix did act with premeditated intent to kill Aleisha Bryant, thus convicting Lambrix of capital premeditated murder.

But there never was any such “pond,” and no question that this extremely prejudicial testimony used to prove actual premeditation was deliberately fabricated to inflame the jury and convince the jury to convict and condemn Lambrix to death.

In the post conviction appeal now before the Florida Supreme Court, Lambrix’s legal counsel pro offered into evidence the sworn affidavit of the owner of the property, who attested under oath that there was no pond in the area where Bryant was killed. Additionally, two expert witnesses provided sworn statements as hydro-engineers and property surveyors that they went to the property and concluded that Smith-Ottinger’s claim that Bryant was placed face down in a pond to ensure she would die simply could not be true.

Not surprisingly, the Florida Supreme Court refused to even address Lambrix’s specifically pled claim of “fundamental miscarriage of justice” based party upon the pro-offered “expert report” of one of the country’s top homicide detectives, William Gaut, who was retained by Lambrix’s legal counsel to independently examine the case against Lambrix.

Mr. Gaut has over 40 years of experience in homicide investigations, and personally taught homicide investigation techniques in college classes. It was Mr. Gaut’s opinion after independently reviewing the case brought against Lambrix that the entire investigation and development of evidence used to convict and condemn Lambrix is “highly suspect” and not consistent with long established protocols. Quite simply, Mr. Gaut concluded that his own independent examination does support that the state’s key witness Smith-Ottinger and the state attorney’s head investigator Miles “Bob” Daniels, did conspire and collaborate together to wrongly convict and condemn Lambrix.

Why would the Florida Supreme Court deliberately ignore the overwhelming weight of this evidence? All of the records in the capital case are posted online, including the trial transcripts, appeal briefs, and other relevant actions so that anyone can read the record and decide for themselves.

The only logical conclusion is that the Florida Supreme Court is willing to deliberately put an innocent man to death for no reason but to protect the Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, formally herself part of the prosecution team in this capital case, from being exposed for her own complicity in the prosecutorial misconduct that resulted in Michael Lambrix being – by deliberate intent – wrongfully convicted and condemned to death.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Crazy people don’t ask

After more than a quarter of a century now in continuous solitary confinement on Florida’s death row, condemned to death row, condemned to death for a crime I did not commit (please check my website www.southerninjustice.net ) I’ve spent my share of time contemplating that inevitable question of whether I might have gone insane – and if I had not already crossed over that bridge of no return, when would I? When it comes down to it, it’s just not natural to spend one’s entire adult life in a six foot concrete crypt never for even one moment able to forget that I am simply being warehoused until the State of Florida can finally pull me from me from my cage and put me to death.

Certainly it would not be so unusual for any person to slowly slip beneath that metaphorical surface that separates what we commonly call reality and become lost in some form of psychosis and in truth under these circumstances perhaps insanity would be even a blessing. It is not hard for me to imagine that insanity could even offer the hope of freedom from this never-ending nightmare that I am trapped within. If only but for a moment I could awake and through some form of involuntarily induced psychosis I would just detach from this reality and if only within my own mind, find that “freedom”

In some ways I do pursue that elusive freedom by escaping into my daydreams of a life I once had, cherishing broken fragments of a now long ago part when I was a younger man and a husband and father. Sometimes I even must struggle to recall details that don’t really matter, but still I push myself to recall the details, knowing only too well that as the details slowly fade from memory, the that even the memory itself slowly fades away. Memories of a life I once had and the hopes and dreams of a future that would never be are all I have left.

But it becomes harder to pull up the thoughts and memories that kept me going. When I look out the dusty window on the outer wall of this cellblock I can see a patch of green grass between the wings and I try to remember what it felt like to stand barefoot on the grass, to feel the blades of grass beneath my feet and how it would give way as I took each step. But it has been too many years now since I felt the touch of grass and although I can still describe how it might have felt like, I cannot really remember or imagine how it actually felt to touch.

The other day I was talking to a guy who just came to the row and is now in a cell next to me. He is about the same age as I was when I first came here and yet when I talk to him, it’s as if he came from a totally different world as the world that I once knew didn’t have cell phones, or DVD’s or personal computers, and even so much of the language itself has changed as a new generation adopted it’s own way of saying things.

In the new guy I see some of myself. But now I’m 50 years old and my kids are grown and my grandchildren growing up fast. Where has my entire adult life gone as it doesn’t seem that I’ve been locked up this many years. And yet I know these years are now gone as I need only look into the mirror to see that the progression of age is slowly overcoming me.
Sometimes I have to wonder if maybe it’s all just a bad dream. Or maybe even a bad acid trip. What if I awoke tomorrow only to find that it was once again 1982 and none of this ever really happened? I actually do play around with that thought from time to time. And yet when I do awake, I must confront the reality that it is not just a bad dream.

So, it’s inevitable brings me back to the question I have asked myself only too many times – what if I go crazy? Maybe I already have and all of this is nothing more than a twisted psychosis that has become my reality, like the way the “crazy people” get lost in their own little worlds, and nothing anyone tells them can convince them that they are just imagining what they believe to exist as their “reality” has become their only reality.

When I look around me it’s not hard to see the signs in others, especially some of the guys that I’ve known for years who have slowly succumbed to their own relative form of insanity. It is not all that uncommon for guys who have been here as long as I have to develop paranoia and psychosis – giving in to the illusion that others around them are plotting against them, or – hearing voices that don’t exist, or convincing themselves that they are going home “tomorrow” and yet their tomorrow never comes.

If I can see these signs in others, then I have to wonder if maybe others see these signs in me. As far as I know, I’ not giving in to paranoia or psychosis – but I do still desperately hope for the day that I might yet go “home” and I can only hope that that is not an illusion.

These are thought that I do struggle with. In some ways I have to wonder just when will it be my turn to sink below that surface of insanity, will it happen suddenly as if I awake one day and find that I have gone insane? Or will it happen ever so very slowly and I’ll be the last to know? How will I actually know? Maybe I will be the last to know, continuing merrily along the path oblivious to my own insanity while others around me struggle to find ways to drag me back to the reality they think they’re still in touch with.

This riddle I struggle with was playing its usual mind game when I watched a movie on my TV the other day. It was a movie called Proof”, starring Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Pal throw and it was about an elderly mathematician (Hopkins) slowly going crazy as his equally brilliant daughter (Pal throw) struggled to cope with his progressive insanity, all the while wondering if maybe she was going crazy too. At one point early in the movie the father and daughter had a talk about her own fears that maybe the disease that eroded his own sanity also would afflict her – how would she know if she too was going crazy? That is when I finally heard the best answer to my own question. When Anthony Hopkins told Gwyneth Pal throw that the way she can be sure she’s not going nuts is because crazy people don’t ask it they are going crazy. That made me laugh and after some more thought on the matter I began to appreciate the logic of that simple truth – Crazy people don’t ask. You see, if I were really going nuts, then I would not know that I’m going nuts. Others might see it in me, but I’d never see it in myself. Simply because I still possess the capacity to ask that question is itself proof that I’m not (yet) nuts.

For some strange reason the logic of that truth brought me comfort. I can’t really explain it, but for the first time I have a way to “self-diagnose” my own fear of insanity as long as I can continue to ask whether maybe I’m finally going crazy, I know I’m not quite there yet. That’s got to count for something. I slept well that night, almost as if a weight had been lifted from me. The next morning I still through about that simple answer to the question I’ve asked so many times. And I smiled as I did. The next morning I awoke again and got into a prolonged conversation with my cell neighbor and then reading a few magazines and watched some TV. Before I knew it, the whole day had passed and as I prepared my bunk to go to sleep it occurred to me that I had gone the whole day without asking myself if I was going crazy yet. A whole day without asking that simple question – then it suddenly hit me…now I know I must be finally going crazy as I’m no longer asking, and only crazy people don’t ask!

Michael Lambrix
Death row Florida

Monday, April 12, 2010

Marking the Milestones

As I write this, it occurs to me that it’s been exactly 26 years ago today that I first came to Florida’s death row! I’ve now been continuously incarnated on this capital case over 17 years, but that includes over a year in the Glades County jail awaiting trial, then going through two separate jury trials after my first trial ended with a “hung jury” (which means that the jury could not agree in convicting me of anything)

It’s been a really long road. Thinking about it made me think of all the years and the changes along the way. Most of the guys I first met when I joined the ranks of the condemned are now long dead. Some of the others have had their sentences reduced to “life” and have since been scattered across Florida’s prison system. And a few went home a free man.

Marking the milestones – I suppose we all do it in our own way. All of us encounter events along this path we call life that become our own milestones. Often these milestones reflect nothing but our age. When I first caught this case, I was 22. Before I was 30 the State of Florida attempted to execute me not once, but twice. That deathwatch experience will forever be a “milestone” that I will never forget. To this day I can still vividly recall sitting in that solitary cell just a few feet away from the steel door that led into the execution chamber (see: Facing my own Execution )

Some parts of that experience will never be forgotten. Just a few months ago my small electric fan started vibrating for reasons I don’t know. But that immediately brought back memories of the concrete floor beneath my feet in that “deathwatch” cell and how it vibrated with a low hum as just beyond that steel door they did a mock execution to make sure the chair (“ole Sparky”) would be ready for me the next morning. For several long moments I could only watch my fan vibrate, transfixed by that memory. Only then did I reach up to turn it off – and I left it off the rest of the day, preferring to endure the heat and humidity then to be reminded of that vibration. The next day when I did turn on the fan again, it no longer vibrated – maybe it never really did. Maybe it was all in my mind.

In the cell that I am now I can look out the distant window and across a narrow space of grass to another wing opposite this one. That used to be called “S” wing and it was the first wing I was housed on. Looking from window to window across the way, I can remember who was in which cell. As I do, I get about halfway down and the name Jim Chandler came up. I had often shared a cellblock with Jim through the years, and was on the same floor with him up until just a few months ago when I was abruptly transferred back over here to Florida State Prison.

A few weeks ago I got word that Jim Chandler had died just about a month ago now. I wasn’t surprised as he had been struggling with medical issues for a few years now. But I was sorry to hear it.

Another milestone to mark – with so many of us virtually warehoused here in solitary confinement for decades on end, many of us are growing old. Now death by “natural causes” claims the lives of more condemned prisoners here in Florida than executions. Just in recent months three guys on my floor alone have died - Henry Garcia, William Cruse and now Jim Chandler. Like me, most of these guys have been on the row for twenty, even thirty years. And one by one, we are growing old and dying.

Sometimes I count the number of days that I have been locked away on a crime that I did not commit. (Please see: www.southerninjustice.net ) As of today, it is 9881 days since march 2, 1983 – that’s counting 6 days for the loop years that have passed. Soon, about the first week of June, I will mark my ten thousandth day, and that will be significant even if it is nothing but a number. Like the odometer on a car, each day just rolls over but at Day Ten Thousand, I have crossed into a whole new column of numbers. Funny how much of a psychological difference the number 9,999 is from the number 10,000. But it is – and I’m not sure how I should mark that day. Maybe I will try to just sleep through it.

By the time you are reading this I will cross perhaps one of the biggest milestones of all – I will turn 50 years old on March 29. I don’t particularly feel like I’m already 50 years old, but then again I’ve never been 50 before, so I don’t know. It’s supposed to feel like it’s just another milestone, but a significant one by any measure as the great state of Florida has easily spent millions of dollars to try to kill me before I made it to that mark. Knowing that I did make it to 50 when they’ve tried so hard to kill me before I even made it to 30 gives me a sense of victory over these corrupt state sanctioned serial killers.


Turning 50 does make me think about the many years that I’ve now lost forever, and can never get back again. When I was arrested on these charges at age 22, I still had my whole life in front of me. At the time I was recently divorced with 3 young children who went on to grow up without ever really knowing me.

Now I have four grandchildren that I also have no opportunity to get to know and be part of their lives as they grow up. When I look in my small plastic mirror I see the gray hair – at least where it hasn’t fallen out anyways! And other physical signs confirming that I’m growing old and I wonder if perhaps it is also my fate to slowly grow old and die here in this cage far away from family and friends.

But another milestone could soon pass this year as I anxiously await a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court that could possibly even order my immediate release. It has taken over 27 years of screaming to anyone who would listen that I am innocent of what they’ve accused me of to get to this point, where a wealth of new evidence developed over the past 12 years has now been collectively presented to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing my innocence.

If the court agrees that this collective evidence substantiates my claim of innocence, they could throw my convictions out completely and order a new trial – or even order my complete and unconditional release, as they have done in many similar wholly circumstantial cases.

No matter what the strength of the evidence may be, it’s hard to get my hopes up that the court might do the right thing. After 27 years of living this never ending nightmare, I no longer have confidence in a judicial system the only too often will ignore claims of innocence – and I have no doubt will even knowingly execute the innocent rather than admit to error.

But what f they do rule in my favor? Making that milestone is itself almost as terrifying as the hours of death watch leading up to the uncertainty of my then imminent execution, as after spending my entire adult life in solitary confinement condemned to death the thought of being fee again scares the hell out of me!

But like turning 50, that is a milestone I’m willing to accept and embrace. And I can now only hope that I will have the opportunity to cross that marker.

Michael Lambrix
Florida Death Row

Please check out my website www.southerninjustice.net

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The games they play

Those familiar with my blog articles already know that I’m a prisoner on Florida’s death row. In Florida, death sentenced prisoners spend everyday in a small concrete cell by ourselves, with minimal human contact. The only time we are allowed out of our cells is when we get a legal or social visit, or a medical callout, or supposedly we are allowed to go outside to the recreational yard for two hours twice a week. I say supposedly because more often then not death sentenced prisoners are routinely denied any opportunity to go to the rec yard for no other reason but the games the guards play to deny regular yard.

To fully explain this problem I must first tell you some of the history relevant to recreational activity for death row prisoners in Florida. Florida has a long and well documented history of being the “cesspool” of the prison system, and the abuse of prisoners by the guards is systematic. As the former Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC )Secretary (director) Walter McDonough repeatedly said in published newspaper articles, a pervasive “culture of corruptions” exists within the Florida Department of Corrections in which the guars hired to work in the prison are themselves all too often nothing less than “criminals and thugs” , hired only because their father or uncle worked for the FDOC, there is rampant abuse of prisoners, systematic misconduct and a complete absence of professionalism in which supervisory staff simply refuse to “put a leash” on guards who are out of control.

All too often, those guards who do engage in abuse of prisoners at Florida State Prison are actually rewarded with promotions and favorable shifts schedules, effectively encouraging similar misconduct among all staff.

Abuse of prisoners come in many forms, and is not always so easily seen as when a prisoner is brutally beaten to death – as was the case of Frank Valdez See, Valdez v. Crosby, 450 F.3d.1231 (11th Cr 2006) (graphically describing the assaults upon prisoners, including the murder of Frank Valdez by guards known to have a history of similar violence against prisoners at Florida State Prison)

One particular form of abuse often inflicted upon death row prisoners is the deliberate deprivation of adequate outdoor recreation. It doesn’t take a medical degree to appreciate the importance of getting sunlight. Some of you might recall the movie “Brubaker”, where a new prison warden is assigned to clean up the abuse in a southern prison and takes a trip to the unit for death row prisoners. When the warden (played by Robert Redford) goes into the unit he finds that the prisoners had not been allowed outside for years. The movie then shows the warden passing out sunglasses to the inmates and ordering their cell doors open as he personally leads them out into a rec yard. Many of the prisoners are blinded by the sunlight and can barely even stagger outside.

In Florida State Prison ever hired a warden like that, committed to basic human treatment, that scene could easily had been filmed here on Florida’s death row, where many of the men have not been allowed to go outside in many years, often denied yard time for no reason but that they dared to complain.

About 30 years ago it took federal court intervention to even compel Florida prison officials to provide minimal outdoor recreation to Florida’s death row inmates. That was done through a federal “class action” lawsuit known as Dougan v Duggan and it allowed the federal court to monitor the recreation provided. Even when the Department of Corrections entered into a settlement, agreeing to provide the prisoners a minimum of 4 hours of outdoor recreation per week, the federal court subsequently had to hold prison officials here at Florida State Prison in ‘contempt of court’ when they routinely acted in deliberate bad faith by canceling outdoor recreation on a regular base and routinely denying the death row prisoners their yard time for years at a time.

Only after prison officials were held in actual contempt of court for refusing to comply with their binding “consent decree” to provide a minimum of minimum 4 hours or outside recreation per week, did things finally get better and we started to receive regular yard time.

But then in 1996 the federal congress passed the “Prisoner Litigation Reform act” (PLRA) which passed federal laws prohibiting the Florida courts from continuing oversight of prison conditions if prison officials established they were in compliance. Not long after this Florida prison officials moved to dismiss the federal lawsuit overseeing death row recreation, claiming they were in compliance and the Federal court had no choice but to dismiss the case, relieving Florida State Prison of any further oversight.

It had been about ten years now since the “Dougan v Duggan” Federal class action lawsuit was dismissed because of the PLRA. And once again Florida State Prison is back to playing the same games that compelled Federal Court intervention back then. When it comes down to it, given the virtual absence of professionalism among staff in Florida’s prison system, the only way to compel Florida’s prison officials to follow long established law governing the basic treatment of prisoners is to have the Federal courts watch over them and hold them in contempt of court if they refuse.

About 3 months ago I was transferred back from the main death row unit of Union Correctional Institution to Florida State Prison’s secondary death row unit. Since I have been back over here at FSP, I have personally witnessed this systematic abuse of prisoners, especially by the guards assigned to work the death row yard.

Theoretically, all death row prisoners are entitled to go to the rec yard twice a week for two hours each time, for a total of (maximum) of four hours per week. But Sergeant Strong, who runs the rec yard, doesn’t think death sentenced prisoners should have any rec yard at all. Sgt Strong abuses his authority by routinely refusing prisoners their rec yard time. Not surprisingly, he has a long history of alleged abuse of prisoners and was only promoted to being the yard Sgt after inmates filed grievances that he was involved in numerous physical assaults upon these prisoners.

Myself, I like to get out to the recreation yard at least once a week even though I’m no longer able to participate in volleyball or basketball due to a military injury that left me physically disabled. But at least I can go outside for a few hours and walk around and talk to other prisoners and get some much needed sunlight.

However, in the 12 weeks that I have been back here at Florida State Prison, Sgt Strong. has only allowed me to go out to the rec yard 3 times. The first week I was here he told me point blank that he wasn’t going to pull me for rec yard because I had filed a lawsuit years ago against other guards here for physically abusing me and others. He then told me that the next time I “will go out in a box like Valdez”. Frank Valdez was the death row prisoner that was beaten to death by guards at this prison in July 1999. See Valdez v. Crosby,450 F.3d 1231 (11th Cr.2006) I’ve never been one to back down from a coward, so I wrote Sgt Strong. up for refusing my yard and threatening my life.

Of course the warden of FSP took virtually no action, even though numerous other prisoners have filed similar complaints against this sergeant. But then, we don’t expect much out of this warden as he is a “good ole boy” who has a long history of turning a blind eye to inmate abuse. This warden is part of the “culture of corruption” and he will do whatever it takes to cover for his guards even when the evidence is overwhelming.

For weeks after that Sgt Strong invented one excuse after another to deny me my rec yard time. Last week I was able to go out only because the wing Sgt put me down on the rec yard list – but again this week I was denied yard, this time because I had written up a grievance against Sgt Strong last week and so he told me I’m not going to rec because I wrote him up.

My own experience is not unique – routinely all death row prisoners are denied red yard by Sgt Strong as he deliberately abuses his power. Often we are written down as “refused yard” because Sgt Strong found some petty reason to deny yard, such as the bunk was not properly made, or the cell light was not on, or a cup was on the sink. But consistently what it really comes down to is that Sgt Strong doesn’t think death sentenced prisoners should have any rec time. And if you do complain to the warden of FSP, he will not listen – and Sgt Strong will then threaten us with physical assault and even death for writing him up.

Once again we must now file a new Federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, compelling the Federal court to intervene and monitor our ability to get outdoor rec time. This will now undoubtedly cost Florida taxpayers a substantial amount of money, and for what? Because the warden refuses to address a problem and take appropriate action to ensure that we are provided with adequate rec time.

I would like to ask each of you to email FDOC secretary McNeil or Warden Singer of FSP and ask them to look into the matter. Attach a copy of this blog with your email so they can read it too.

Walter McNeil FDOC Secretary email address: mcneil.walter@mail.dc.state.fl.us

Warden Singer, Florida State Prison email address: singer.steven@mail.dc.state.fl.us

Michael Lambrix
Florida Death Row

Monday, March 22, 2010

Florida Adopts in your Face Executions

I have been on Florida’s death row now well over a quarter of a century and in these many years I’ve been an indirect and involuntary witness to more executions than I can count. Most of those who were methodically murdered by the state were men that I came to know well through years of living in close proximity of each other and became close to as of we were all part of a large extended family.

In the past I have written many stories about executions from my own perspective, mostly talking about the man who was put to death, to remind those who might read my words that the man was a unique person with value as a fellow human being. It’s often just too easy to see only what we want to see and in the case of those we condemn to death, perhaps it is too convenient to believe that this person was nothing more than a monster and we deny any redeeming quality.

But each of those individuals did possess that measure of humanity that gives their life meaning. Each had family and friends that cared for them and will now grieve at their death. No matter what the nature of the alleged crime was that they were led them to the execution chamber, they still each laughed and cried like all of us do and if only we could miraculously remove that momentary transgression that resulted in another death, than most of those would be no different than those we live among in our communities.

Yesterday the state of Florida put Martin Grossman to death. Those of us who knew him called him “Eddie” He had been on Florida’s death row almost as long as I have and through the years I came to know him as a generous and giving individual, who did not hesitate to share what little he had with others around him.

Eddie was a good natured guy with a quick sense of humor. He had a way of making others around him laugh and if only for a few moments forget about the hellhole we live in. His character possessed a quiet and respectful sense of integrity that those who knew him came to respect. Although kind of a big guy, he was never a bully and he stood up for the little guy on many occasions.

It bothers me that the world judges him only by the alleged crime that led him to death row. Even assuming that he did what the state claimed, the objective facts establish that he was a troubled teenager who, while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, spontaneously responded to an event that led to the death of the law enforcement officer (a game warden). But did he go out and commit a deliberate act of murder? I just don’t think so.

Now Eddie is gone and he will be missed. But there’s something about the execution of Eddie that really bothers me, and I think would bother anyone of moral conscience. This execution was unlike any other that I’ve seen carried out and reflects what can only be described as a sickness that has no place in any so-called civilized society.

I spent many hours. Long into the night last night trying to find a way to put into words why I found the ritual of Eddie’s execution so offensive. In the many, many years that I’ve been on death row, when the state did carry out executions, it has always been the policy of the prison administrators to maintain as much of a “normal” routine inside the prison as possible. Wardens painstakingly made a point of minimizing any reminders that an execution was being carried out. Of course we all knew that on the next wing over they were methodically putting a man to death, a man that each of us personally knew. But by maintaining a daily routine, it was something we could detach from in a way and not be forced to deal with. But now for the first time ever Florida has adopted in-your-face executions where all the prisoners of Florida State Prison are now effectively forced to involuntarily participate in these ritualistic executions.

I’m certainly not the only one who found this new policy offensive and inhumane – a number of prison staff even attempted to take the day off just so they would not have to participate, but were told they could not.

What made yesterday’s execution completely different from any other that I’ve seen carried out in all the years I have been here is how the new warden of Florida State Prison went out of his way to make this an all day event. Up until now those who ran he prison had enough sense and humanity to know that forcing other prisoners to be reminded of what was going on, and making them unwilling participants, could only cause a lot of tension and anxiety among the prison population and could contribute to possible escalations and even violence.

But unlike before, when any change of routine was minimized, yesterday all the staff was ordered to dress up in their dress uniforms, typically only worn when a visiting dignitary was inspecting the troops. That meant wearing neckties and spotless uniforms and polished boots. Although to those unfamiliar with the daily grind of prison life that might not seem like such a big deal, it actually is the only time in almost 30 years of being a prisoner in the Florida State system that I’ve ever seen the rank and file staff ordered to wear their dress uniforms all day while working the cellblock areas. Then they brought breakfast about two hours early, and then lunch was later that morning and dinner by early afternoon. By late afternoon the circus became even more obvious when we were told that the whole institution was on lockdown and they would not do the showers until they were told restricted movement had been lifted, also mail would not be delivered until after the execution. All this served to force every one of us to stand by and become an involuntary participant to this execution.

From early in the morning, throughout the day and into the early evening each of us was forced to confront the imminent execution they intended to carry out. That caused a substantial, even tangible tension on the wing. But as I said, it wasn’t just us in the cellblocks that found this execution process troubling as many of the officers working here also wanted no part of it. And yet we were all forced to go along with it just because one man at the top found it necessary to make a circus out of an execution, even finally announcing on the radio (closed circuit radio system allowing communication within the prison) that the execution had been carried out and it was alright to resume “normal activity”.

Michael Lambrix
Death row Florida

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle - part II

Recently I wrote a blog article entitled “Welcome to the Jungle” which described the environment I have recently been cast down upon. Florida State Prison has an especially brutal history as over the years it earned its reputation as the “Alcatraz of the South” This history is well documented in court records, such as Valdez v. Crosby,450 F.3d. 1231 (11th Cir. 2006). Anyone who might doubt the claims that I make should simply read that Federal Court case, which describes how gangs of prison guards systematically preyed upon prisoners with complete impunity, brutalizing prisoners for no other reason but that they could.

Countless other Federal Court cases document the history of extreme violence towards prisoners at Florida State Prison. I myself have been subjected to brutal beatings by these guards on two separate occasions. I then too the case to Federal Court, attempting to sue the guards responsible only to have the Federal Court obstruct my ability to litigate the case, forcing me to accept a “settlement” in which the state of Florida paid me substantial amounts of money to drop the case.

But the guards who assault prisoners are never held personally accountable. Any monetary award is paid by the State. Incredibly, many times guards who have histories of assaulting prisoners are promoted within the Department of Corrections, rising through the ranks until they become the supervisor and even the wardens, and then they too turn a blind eye to the guards who attack prisoners and the cycle continues.

When a prisoner complains of being assaulted will be investigated by the Department of Correction’s own “inspectors”, under the supervision of the FDOC Inspector General Paul Becker. To illustrate the truth of what I write, a person who needs to look at Paul Becker’s own career within the Florida Dept of Corrections. “Top cop” Paul Decker is responsible for appointing other FDOC employees as the lower level “investigators” or “inspectors” who then investigate individual allegations of prisoner’s assaults. But what few know is that Paul Decker himself rose through the ranks at Florida State Prison and worked directly under the FSP warden James Crosby during the years graphically illustrated in Valdez v Crosby, 450 F3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2006) and was personally the supervisor over the guards who beat countless prisoners at Florida State Prison.

This is the culture of corruption that defines the Florida Department of Corrections. As a prisoner I have watched as one Governor after another publicly promised to clean up the corruption in the Department, bringing in a Director from out of state under the pretense that an “outsider” will not be corrupted by any career alliances to others in the FDOC. But without exception, the new FDOC “secretary” (Director) will immediately appoint only those long time ‘good ole boys” from within the Dept of Corrections to positions such as Inspector General who are responsible for enforcing the law within Florida’s prison system. I have seen this same cycle repeated over and over again and have come to believe that nobody really wants to stop the epidemic of violence in prisons as the American public and elected politicians do not have the moral integrity it takes to be outraged by these actions.

My first experience in personally witnessing the violence of prison guards was in the summer of 1982 when I was incarnated at baker Correctional, a maximum security prison in the adjacent county north of Florida State Prison. The compound erupted into a free-for-all riot in which hundreds of prisoners took control of the institution. Numerous staff members were assaulted and within hours vans full of guards from surrounding prisons flooded into the parking lot and quickly organized into military formation, wearing riot gear and then marching into the compound, taking back control within a few hours. But taking back control was not enough. They wanted to avenge their fellow officers who were assaulted. It didn’t matter whether those who were singled out for retaliation actually had anything to do with the riot at all, as all that mattered was that someone – anyone – was held accountable. Throughout the evening and into the night the entire prison was terrorized by gangs of guards who randomly pulled out one prisoner after the other from their cells and brought them up to the “admin building” where they were brought handcuffed and blindfolded and forced to walk down a long hallway lined with guards, and the guards would brutally beat each prisoner as they passed by, then load them into a transport van and move them to either Florida State Prison or Union Correctional institution.

Formal complaints were filed with federal agents at the Justice Department and within a few months the guards who were responsible were indicted on federal charges, then brought to trial as “the Baker Eight”, They had a right to a jury trial (which I fully support) but nobody was surprised when the Jacksonville jury acquitted all 8 of them of all charges. A few years later I came to Florida State Prison under sentence of death. One of the first guards I saw was one of the infamous “Baker Eight”. After being acquitted of assaulting at least 20 inmates following the riot, the FDOC promoted him to Lieutenant and put him in charge of supervising other officers at Florida State Prison. This is just one of the many examples of promoting an FDOC employee with a history of assaulting prisoners. The unspoken tragedy of all this is the undeniable consequences of this culture of corruption. If the correctional officers who wear the badge of law enforcement will not respect that badge they wear, then why should any prisoner respect it?

In the many years that I have been imprisoned I have seen this cycle of violence repeat itself again and again. It is not just a coincidence that assaults upon guards and staff have significantly increased following a similar increase in reported assaults upon prisoners by guards. As long as I can remember it has been said that any angry man will hurt you - a scared man will kill you. If only these guards who participate in these acts of violence against prisoners would just stop and think about it, they’d realize that they are investing in inevitable acts of future violence against them, and other innocent people.

What I must emphasize is that it is actually only a small percentage of guards who will get involved in this violence. See, that’s the difference between a prison guard and a correctional officer. Although they both wear the same badge, they are cut of different cloth. A correctional officer is someone whose work has earned the respect of those he or she works with as well as the prisoners, as he has proven that he is a professional and possesses that measure of moral character necessary to rise above the daily grind of this zoo. But a guard will never amount to anything more than a guard, even if he is promoted up through the ranks to the highest level of the Department of Corrections, as the person is just as much a violent career criminal as those who are imprisoned.

Some might say that I’m making myself a target by speaking out against this epidemic of violence against prisoners here at Florida’s State Prison. But I am already a target and I will be as long as I remain at this prison. For me it is a matter of principle. I truly believe in what Abraham Lincoln once said: that evil can only triumph when good men choose do nothing. Each one of us has a moral obligation to speak out against any evil around us – especially when that evil only exists because of the abuse of power entrusted upon them by “we the people”, which is the system of government we live under. I do not invite violence against myself. But I will not conceal my contempt for those that do participate in these assaults – and as a matter of principle I will never remain silent when a prisoner is being abused around me.

America has taken it upon itself to be the model of basic human rights. But increasingly we are being exposed internationally as the arrogant hypocrites that we are, and all because of a very small number of morally corrupt individuals who give the rest of us a bad name. But in truth it is those at the highest level of our state and federal government that are ultimately responsible for compromising the perception of our moral values as a nation if conscience. When those empowered under the color of state are free to abuse that power with complete impunity then the malignancy of corruption becomes absolutely inevitable.

The time is long overdue for those in power to systematically weed out these few guards who are responsible for the vast majority of assaults against prisoners. I know that there are many correctional officers within the Florida Department of Corrections who feel as I do and would gladly be rid of those guards that give them all a bad name. But as long as these guards with a known history of violence are being promoted rather than prosecuted, this cycle of violence will never stop.

Michael Lambrix
Death Row Florida

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Florida's Death Squad

As many of the regular readers of my blogs already know, on December 18 I was abruptly transferred from the main death row unit at Union Correctional to the old death row unit at Florida State Prison, where all of Florida’s death row prisoners used to be housed before they built and opened the ‘new’ unit at Union Correctional in 1992.

Coming back to this old prison was not something I anticipated as the last time I was housed at this old prison I was brutally assaulted by the guards in an attempt to silence me as I had witnessed the gangs of guards physically assault many other prisoners, leading up to the deliberate murder of another death row prisoner by the name of Frank Valdes. His own brutal assault and murder is graphically detailed in the federal court ruling Valdes v. Crosby, 450 f.3d 1231 (11th cir. 2006) and anyone who might doubt that violence against prisoners in American prisons doesn’t happen should read that case as it describes the systematic assaults and even murder of countless prisoners at this prison. I would strongly encourage you to read it so you can see how Florida often treats death sentenced prisoners.

After that 1999 incident I was transferred to the main deathrow unit at UCI which is just a short distance down the road from here. The state then paid me a substantial amount of money to drop the lawsuit, and I agreed to ‘settle’ the case- but only on the specific condition that I would not be transferred back to Florida State Prison. By now transferring me back here they’ve deliberately violated the specific terms/ conditions of that federal court settlement, so now I fully intend to reopen that federal lawsuit and this time I will demand a public jury trial to fully expose this prison’s long history of violently abusing prisoners.
But although I certainly do not like being here, it’s not too bad as by coming back over here I am able to see many old friends I’ve known for years, including Paul Johnson.

I’ve known Paul for many, many years, and of the many hundreds, if not thousands of prisoners I have known in all these long years, Paul is one of the very, very few who I would gladly welcome in my own home. He’s as straight as they come, and that’s a quality that is very rare in any prison. But a few months back Florida’s governor ‘Chaingang Charlie’ Crist eagerly gave in to a political campaign to try to expedite Paul’s execution, even though he was not ‘death warrant’ eligible, and signed a death warrant to schedule Paul’s execution in an attempt to obstruct and circumvent his pending appeals.

But the Florida Supreme Court then stayed Paul’s execution, publicly condemning Governor Crist’s politically motivated attempt to deny Paul a fair review of his appeal by insidiously pushing for an expedited execution. The court’s senior Justice, Barbara Pariente, made it very clear that Gov Crist engaged in improper misconduct when signing Paul’s death warrant while his appeal was still pending.

As coincidence would have it, once I was transferred back to this zoo, I was placed in a cell on the same floor and in close proximity to Paul, even though he remained on ‘death watch.’ And I enjoyed many long conversations with him, especially when we went out to the recreation yard for a few hours twice a week. Paul sends his thanks to all of you who have sent him cards and letters of support.

One of the conversations I had with Paul really shocked me, and believe me, after a quarter of a century on death row there’s not a lot that shocks me anymore! I have been on death watch myself and even come within hours of actual execution, not just once, but twice (please read, Facing My Own Execution) and so I’ve been through the Phase 11 of death watch, which is when they come down to measure you for the suit the state so generously provides to kill you in, and you order your last meal and write down your ‘last will and testament.’

But when I went through all of that the state still used the infamous ‘Old Sparky’ ~ the electric chair. They’ve since switched to lethal injection as the means to which to now put the condemned to death after numerous prisoners quite literally burst into flames in the electric chair and challenges of cruel and unusual punishment were pursued ~ somehow they think injection is more ‘humane.’

So, of course I asked Paul how they do it now. Although it may seem a little morbid for two condemned prisoners to compare notes on how the state intended to kill them, when you’ve lived in the shadow of death for as long as me and Paul have, it is just part of ‘normal’ conversation.

But not even I could not have anticipated the horror that Paul described. Apparently the state is now concerned about reaching that hour of execution only to find that the prisoner’s veins are damaged and then there may be a problem in killing him, as there have been numerous executions, such as that of Angel Diaz, who were slowly and deliberately tortured to death two years ago here in Florida, which they claimed was his fault as his veins were damaged from years of drug use.

So now they’ve come up with a new procedure which to my knowledge has never been publicly exposed before, and should certainly shock the conscience of any person of conscience. Here’s how Paul described it to me ~ about a week after he was moved down to the bottom of Q wing, where Florida’s death house is, suddenly the back door that leads to the actual execution chamber opened. From personal experience, I know that this solid steel door is only a few feet from the cell they keep you in while on death watch.

Through this door walked in at least four, perhaps even 6 people who were fully dressed in plastic ~ like suits and a full helmet/mask over their head like we have often seen in the movies ~ such as those who handle nuclear waste. Slowly they marched single file only to stop in front of Paul’s death watch cell, then facing him they demanded to examine his veins. Paul says that even the small widow in the front of their uniforms was concealed, so that he could not see their faces.

As if he were nothing more than a piece of meat, without showing even the slightest semblance of humanity, this state sanctioned ‘death squad’ coldly examined Paul’s veins on his arms and talked openly among themselves about how his veins seemed to be alright. Paul was ordered to stand there as they took turns examining each arm, agreeing with each other that they would have no problem inserting the lethal chemicals to deliberately put a man to death.

Once they all agreed that Paul’s veins would pose no problems when they were called to kill him, then they turned and filed back through that solid steel door that leads to the execution chamber.

I cannot even imagine this utterly surreal scene that Paul described ~ nor can I imagine how unconscionable such an act is. Never before, other than the infamous death squads of third world countries, have I heard of a group of deliberately concealed and masked men approach a condemned prisoner and without even a hint of humanity, coldly examine him with the intent to put him to death. This is America, we don’t have masked death squads that serve the government and it shocks me that they would do such a thing. But I have also to wonder- am I the only one who is shocked by the use of death squads in the USA? What does it say about the society we have become that a state government can act in such an unconscionable and inhumane manner? Equally so, what does it say about our so-called civilized society that others are not as equally shocked by this?

Well, the good news is that this cold blooded state sanctioned death squad will not inflict deliberate death upon Paul Johnson as this past week the Florida Supreme Court has thrown out Paul’s death sentence upon finding that the state deliberately engaged in misconduct leading to his death sentence. Within the next few months Paul will be sent back to Polk county for a new sentencing phase trail and I pray that he will then be sentenced to ‘life’ rather than death.

As for me, I remain in this zoo hoping that my own nightmare will soon end. But just knowing that the Florida Supreme court was willing to stand up against the immoral politically motivated attempts to have Paul expeditiously executed gives us all hope that the courts will still recognize state misconduct and throw out death sentences obtained illegally. And we should all now pray that the lower court that will review Paul’s new sentencing will show its own compassion and humanity and sentence Paul to something other than death.

Please read also my website www.southerninjustice.net
Michael Lambrix

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Welcome in the Jungle

With over 100.000 prisoners now incarnated within the Florida Department of Corrections, there are almost 70 different prisons throughout the state. Most are not all that bad, with large open compounds where the prisoners can spend long afternoons playing sports and just “hanging out” with each other as their sentence ticks down one day at a time and they dream of the day they can go home.

Florida State Prison is the exception. All prisons in Florida are formally called “correctional institutions” and by law are intended to provide a “rehabilitative” environment where the offender can participate in various programs before being released back into society, hopefully a better man going out than when he came in. But Florida State Prison is the only institution actually formally called a “prison” in Florida – and for good reason. At “FSP” there are no rehabilitation programs and prisoners are not allowed to go out to an open compound. Rather, the prison is intended to do nothing but confine the prisoner in a solitary cell until they either die or must be released back into society.

I’ve personally been in “the system” almost 30 years now – the past 26 years on death row. Many of these years have been spent here at FSP, beginning back in the early 80’s when FSP was a different place, a prison commonly known as “the Alcatraz of the South”, and for good reason. Other then these sentenced to death, which automatically came to FSP, this was the end of the line for prisoners who, because of their propensity for violence or stupidity, could not be housed anywhere else.

Back then, most of the “wings” at FSP were “open population”, where the prisoners were allowed out of their cells to work jobs within the prison during the day, then locked in their cells at night. They had a large recreation yard where they could play sports or work out with weights.

Since FSP opened around 1959, it has always had a history of extreme violence. It was a kill or be killed environment where assaults and murders were simply part of the daily routine. Florida State Prison was also more commonly known for being home to “Old Sparky” (the electric chair) where Florida carried out its executions. The lesser known truth was that far more prisoners went out in body bags, after being killed in general population, than were executed by the state of Florida. Many of these long forgotten souls
rest in the prison’s graveyard “boot hill”, where prisoners who die in the system are laid to rest if nobody claims their bodies. Only their prison inmate number marks the grave, their own name is soon forgotten.

By the early 1990’s FSP started to drastically change. One wing at a time they eliminated “general population”, replacing the most violent offenders with mentally imbalanced inmates, where they now remain for years and even decades in solitary confinement. New housing units were built where the recreation yard used to be and it now houses minimum or medium security inmates who journey over to the “main unit” each morning to work; clean up, kitchen and maintenance jobs.

By December 1992 the Department of Corrections opened a newly constructed 332 bed unit at Union Correctional Institution (UCI) specifically as the new “death row” and within months the majority of Florida’s death row prisoners were transferred to the new unit. Only a few death row prisoners remained at FSP, those who allegedly had a history of assaulting or killing guards.

But it didn’t take long before the new death row unit filled to capacity and those originally sentenced to death row after 1992 continued to be sent to FSP where they remained until a cell became available at UCI. Equally so, death row inmates in UCI who allegedly became a "security threat" or those who created too many problems by filing many grievances or stepping on the wrong toes found themselves transferred back to FSP.

After UCI opened I was one of the first ones being transferred there. It was a new building, clean and shiny and the cells were bigger than at FSP. It was a big improvement over the deplorable living conditions at FSP where the cellblocks were infested with cockroaches, rodents – even bird and snakes. If you had to be on death row, the UCI unit wasn’t a bad place to be. To an outsider looking in, it was perhaps pure hell but for those of us living for years at FSP, it was like winning the lottery and moving into a big mansion.

But then there’s the dark side of death row. Beginning in the early 1990’s it became increasingly common for guards to target prisoners for violent assaults, especially those who dared to file grievances. In late 1996 I had to file a grievance when a book I had mailed in was taken. The Administration Sergeant (Norman G) had me brought to his office, of course handcuffed and shackled. At first Sgt G began talking to me, clearly agitated because I dared to file a grievance. That quickly escalated and suddenly without provocation he came at me and began to violently assault me. The other officers pulled him off, but not before I sustained injuries and then spent the night in the prison infirmary (hospital)

I’ve never been one to back down and so I soon filed formal complaints against Sgt G and then a Federal lawsuit. As it’s only too common within the Florida Department of Corrections (or as many newspapers have described it, the “Department of Corruptions”) after the lawsuit was filed Sgt Gemelli was promoted to a supervisory position and I soon found myself being transferred back to FSP.

In the first weeks of January 1998 I walked back into Florida State Prison and descended back down into the bowels of the beast. But FSP had radically changed since I had left in December 1992. I walked into a familiar world in which I was a stranger. Never could I have imagined that even as bad as FSP was in the past, it had become an even more brutally violent place. Only now it was not the prisoners responsible for the violence and chaos but rather the guards. I quickly found out that under Warden James Crosby the guards were allowed to violently assault prisoners and actually FSP was now run by the guards. Of course, while assaulting a prisoner they made sure the inmate was handcuffed and physically restrained, completely unable to defend himself. Not all the guards got involved with this, but each shift had its own group of guards that became the predators in this jungle. Like a pack of rabid dogs they preyed upon their victims, assaulting anyone they choose to target for whatever reason. These coward thugs had no respect for the badge of law enforcement they wore and were themselves nothing but state paid violent criminals.

Repeatedly I saw one prisoner after another pulled from his cell under pretenses such as a medical callout or cell search, only to be taken to the “quarterdeck” where other inmates could not see the actual assaults, and a few minutes later they would be brought back bruised and bleeding from the violence that had been inflicted upon them for no other reason but that these coward dogs just had to bite someone.

In June 1999 I was subjected to a “disciplinary report” for allegedly disrespecting one of these guards. Soon I found myself being moved to “X-wing” (now called Q-wing) where I was to do 30 days in lock-up (disciplinary confinement). Death row lock-up was on the third floor of X-wing and already there were several other death row prisoners housed up there, including Frank Valdez, who was sentenced to death for allegedly killing a prison guard in South Florida.

The two upper floors of X-wing (or Q-wing as it is now known) consist of 6 cells on each side for a total of 24 cells. They are used to house only the “worst of the worst” and it is in itself a level of hell beyond description and just the threat of being sent to X-wing causes even the toughest convict to shiver. Very few prisoners ever see the inside of X-wing, and of those who did many have come off X-wing in a body bag out of the back door. The bottom floor of X-wing is Florida’s execution chamber, with 6 cells for “death watch”.

On June, 4 1999 I was housed on 3-west of X-wing. Late that evening a guard came around shutting the outer cell doors of each cell. Unlike most other cells, only the cells on X-wing had both an outer solid steel cell door and an inner door made of steel bars. When this outer door is closed and locked, it completely seals the cell with only a small space at the bottom of the door where a sliver of light could come through. But if you laid down flat on the floor you could see under the door just enough to see whether anyone is congregating in the hall outside.

Generally, it was a good idea to pay attention to what was going on as when the outer doors were closed like this, that was more often than not a warning that the pack of rabid guards were planning to come in on someone – and it could be you. But this time it was not me. A few minutes after the outer door was closed I could hear a scuffling sound of boots outside my door and I watched from beneath the door as at least six sets of boots passed by. They were putting someone in one of the other cells and from the sound of it; the “welcome party” was working overtime brutally assaulting him. It is hard to describe the distinctive sound of boots repeatedly hitting flesh and the involuntary sounds of extreme pain – but for these familiar with it, you don’t soon forget.

Throughout the night these sounds continued. Never before, or since, had I heard such sounds as I heard that night. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sat silently in his cell that night as the sounds of one prisoner after another being brutally beaten filled the air, each of us not knowing what was going on – wondering if at any moment our own cell door might open and it would be our turn to suffer the fate.

Only the next day did I learn what had happened. A number of inmates at Hamilton Correctional Institution, a facility about an hour away, had gotten into a confrontation with a guard which escalated and a female officer was assaulted. Anyone who has ever done time knows that as extreme the consequences would be if you assaulted a guard, they would be a lot worse if you assaulted a female officer. Now I understood what was going on.

It didn’t take long to find out that they had moved four black inmates to X-wing the night before, all allegedly responsible for assaulting the female officer. Each of the four was then repeatedly assaulted by the guards throughout the night and that were the sounds we heard all night long.

But it wasn’t enough to extract that proverbial pound of flesh from each of the four inmates – these guards wanted revenge and they intended to get it. For several days the guards took turns assaulting each of these four and each time with extreme malice. There was no doubt in my mind it was just a matter of time before they killed them – and it wouldn’t be the first time a prisoner was brutally beaten to death by guards at FSP.

The first rule about doing time in any prison is to mind your own business. But I’ve never been one to just ignore the deliberal abuse of anyone around me. I know that I could not physically intervene to stop what was happening - but I could write letters to let people know what was going on. So I wrote a federal judge in Jacksonville and several letters to several newspapers, graphically describing what was going on, pleading with each to do something before these guards killed somebody. I was not the only one. Frank Valdez was also writing letters, hoping that someone would look into what was going on before they killed these guys.

Frank Valdez

But these brutal assaults continued, the screams of pain and misery echoing off the walls at all hours of the day and night. Some might argue that they brought it on themselves by assaulting the female officer and even I don’t think much of a man who assaults women. But nobody deserved this.

About a week later outside people started calling into the prison, asking about what was going on. Although I don’t know it for a fact, I’m pretty sure that they found out that me and Frank Valdez had written to the lawyers and media as I was suddenly moved off X-wing to an isolated cell on G-wing where I had no direct contact with other prisoners. In all the years that I had been on death row this was the first time and only time I had ever been isolated on a floor by myself, so I knew something was up.

That next day I found out that they had jumped on Frank Valdez and beat him to death. The autopsy report later documented the severity of the assault with clearly defined boot prints all over his body and almost every bone broken. Clearly they crossed the line as beating a prisoner to death would not go unnoticed. Now they had to cover their butts and as they gathered to fabricate their story of how Frank Valdez had climbed up the bars of his cell and repeatedly threw himself down onto the steel bunk – clearly a case of suicide – the guards also had to silence the few who knew what exactly was going on.

The same night, which was a Sunday, they came to my cell. As is all too common, under the pretense of conducting a cell search for contraband they handcuffed me and removed me from my cell, ordering me to walk to the front “quarterdeck” area (officers station), but as I did they suddenly pushed me into the empty shower cell at the front of the wing and as one held me from behind, the Sgt repeatedly slammed his fist into my stomach. With each blow the Sgt told me that if I told anything about what was going on on X-wing, I would go out in a body bag. And I truly did believe him.

Even though it was only a few moments, it seemed at the time that this assault went on forever. I’m not ashamed to say that I truly did believe them when they said that they would kill me if I told anything of what had happened. When I was finally led back to my cell I found all my property deliberately destroyed. I was not surprised. At the time, though, I was in extreme physical pain and I lay on my bunk staring at the ceiling. I knew better than to request medical assistance as I knew I would be attacked and beaten again.

But by the next morning I had no choice and told another Sgt that I needed to go to the clinic. The pain had not subsided and I was concerned that I might have suffered internal injuries. Reluctantly they day shift Sgt had me brought to the clinic and only then did I find out that both the Federal and State police had taken over the prison that morning after learning of Frank Valdez death.

As I sat in the holding cage at the clinic, I watched as one after another inmate with obvious physical trauma was escorted to the clinic by Federal agents. Soon I learned that the Federal and State police had done a wing by wing search of the prison, finding countless prisoners who had been assaulted by guards, then left in their cells without receiving any medical attention, including the four prisoners on X-wing who had been beaten daily and were found with broken bones and substantial injuries.

Never before had I seen Federal agents and State police take over a prison, especially a maximum security prison. By the next day pictures were taken of my own injuries – one of the pictures used on the front page of the Miami Herald in an article about the violence against prisoners at FSP.

That next night the Department of Corrections transferred those of us who had been targeted by the guards to the nearby North Florida Reception Center (NFRC) at lake Butler, where they kept us isolated from others under the pretense of “protective custody” but in truth they did this to keep us from talking to the media or anyone about what had happened. For almost two weeks I remained in an isolated cell at NFRC until my injuries were no longer so obvious and only then was I transferred to the death row unit at UCI and placed back among other prisoners.

In the flowing months the investigation into the systematic assault of prisoners at FSP resulted in the formal indictment (criminal charges) for murder against six of the guards directly involved in the attack that resulted in Valdez’s death, including Captain Thorton – one of the highest ranking officers at FSP, who, it was discovered, had personally participated in Frank Valdez murder!

Through legal council I filed a federal lawsuit against those who assaulted me as well as the FSP warden James Crosby, who had not only allowed, but had encouraged these guards to assault prisoners. Although it was discovered that during the 18 months that Crosby served as warden at FSP, there were at least 157 documented assaults upon prisoners rather than terminate his employment the governor (Jeb Bush) actually promoted James Crosby to Secretary of the entire Department of Corrections! Here Crosby remained until he was indicted in federal court for running a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise within the Florida Department of Corrections. Crosby subsequently pled guilty to the charges and is now serving an 8 year prison sentence at the Federal prison.

Although formally charged with the premeditated murder of Frank Valdez, the trial itself was a circus. The prosecutor Rod S. announced his plans to run for the State Senate – an election he knew he could not win without the support of the employees of the area’s prisons. Rod S. took the indicted guards to trial in Bradford County, a rural area with numerous prisons and it quickly became clear that he had no intention of actually convicting these guards of murdering a death row inmate. The jury then declared them “not guilty” and the guards walked free.

By late 2002 the State of Florida wanted to reach an out-of-court settlement on my pending lawsuit and I reluctantly agreed to accept a monetary settlement but only on condition that part of the settlement was that I would not be transferred back to Florida State Prison unless I was under an active death warrant and facing execution. The State agreed to that in writing and it was made part of the final federal court judgment entered in my favor.

But I should have known that the Department of Corrections remains as corrupt as the day is long, and they would not honor even a federal court judgment. Sure enough on Friday December 18, 2009 I was abruptly transferred back to Florida State Prison for no apparent reason. Already several guards, who worked also here at that time, have made a point of reminding me that they have not forgotten.. their implicit threat of retaliation was clear. Now, I can only hope to compel the Federal judge who presided over that earlier case to hold FDOC secretary McNeil in contempt of court for having me transferred back to FSP.

Part II to follow soon..