Florida - State of the Death Penalty - written by Adam Tebrugge, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Florida
Michael Lambrix was supposed to die today.
Three months ago his death warrant was signed by Governor Rick Scott. Michael was moved to a special “Death Watch” cell, steps from the execution chamber. He was fitted for his burial suit and was visiting with his friends and family for what he assumed would be the final time.
However, thanks to the recent ruling from the United States Supreme Court that Florida’s death penalty statute is unconstitutional, Michael was allowed to challenge his sentence. Attorney Brian Stull of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project was among those who filed a brief on behalf of Michael. Last week the Florida Supreme Court agreed to a stay of execution while they sort out the question of which death row inmates might be entitled to a new sentence.
While the courts are doing their work, I am continuing to ask the Governor and Cabinet to grant Michael a clemency hearing. Historically, clemency has always been the last safeguard of our criminal justice system, particularly in death penalty cases. As we know all too well, the courts don’t always get it right. Lawyers and judges make mistakes, all the evidence isn’t heard, and injustice results. That’s why the Governor and Clemency Board have the power to commute a death sentence to one of life imprisonment.
In Florida, however, our Governor’s office has turned the clemency process into a sham, despite Florida having the most unreliable death penalty system in the country. The last Governor to grant clemency was Bob Graham, and that was more than thirty years ago. Governor Scott is now executing inmates at a record pace without apparently considering whether they might be worthy of clemency. The case for clemency is particularly strong for Michael Lambrix.
Michael’s case started in 1984 when a woman named Francis Smith was found driving the car of a man who had been reported missing. Francis led law enforcement to a rural area in Glades County where the bodies of a man and a woman were discovered. Francis claimed that Michael Lambrix had killed both people. She cut a deal with prosecutors to test facing any charges herself. However, prosecutors never disclosed this deal to the Court or to Michael’s attorneys.
Michael’s attorneys were handling their first death penalty case. They wouldn’t let him testify at his trial and threatened to withdraw if he did. The first jury to hear this case could not reach a decision. The second jury found Michael guilty and recommended the death penalty on a less than unanimous vote. Only later did it come out that a key witness had lied after being pressured. Only later did it come out that Francis Smith was having a sexual relationship with the lead State Attorney investigator in the case. Only later was DNA technology developed that could show that Michael was not the killer. Unfortunately for Michael, the courts have ruled that it is too late for any of this evidence to be considered.
After spending the past 31 years on death row, in solitary confinement, you wouldn’t be surprised if Michael had been driven insane or to despair but that’s not the case. Michael has spent his time on self-reflection and improvement. After focusing on his own education during his first years in confinement, Michael began reaching out to people around the world. I have heard from people from Australia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and more. Everyone wanted me to know what a positive impact Mike has had upon their lives. From solitary confinement on Florida’s death row, Mike’s letters and essays have been published in anthologies and shared with people around the world.
At a minimum, Michael Lambrix deserves a hearing before the Clemency Board where these facts could be presented. His case represents a failure of the court system and of the clemency process. Here is what I would ask you to do. Please contact the members of the Florida Clemency Board and deliver this message:
“Please grant a clemency hearing for Michael Lambrix, whose sentence was just stayed by the Florida Supreme Court. At a time when our state’s death sentences are under serious scrutiny, the evidence in this case is especially questionable. Michael has spent the past 30 years and done everything possible to improve himself and to help others. Our death penalty system is in crisis, and Floridians deserve to know that their leaders are working to ensure that our justice system is in fact just. You have an opportunity to review the facts of this case as a member of the Clemency Board Please grant him a clemency hearing, so his case can be reviewed, and you don’t end up executing a potentially innocent man.”You can write any of the folks below at The Capitol, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050, or better yet, call them today.
Governor Rick Scott: 850-488-7146 - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Office of Governor Rick Scott State of Florida The Capitol 400 S. Monroe St. Tallahassee, FL 32399-000
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi: 850-414-3300
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater: 850-413-2820
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam 850-245-1000