Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Open Letter to the Editor of "The Independent Florida Alligator"


Never before have I been compelled to respond to a newspaper article in this manner - but then, any newspaper that was committed to the basic values of journalistici integrity would never has published the kind of article that The Independent Florida Alligator published in the February 29th 2016 edition.

Lawyers always tell their clients not to talk to the media and generally this is good advice. In the 32 years since I've been on Florida's death row for a crime I am innocent of (see, www.southerninjustice.net ) I have almost without exception followed that advice. But when Florida Governor Rick Scott signed my death warrant on November 30th 2015, within hours after the US Supreme Court declined review of my actual innocence claim, and scheduled my execution for February 11th 2016, I decided that against council's advice I would cooperate with the media. One of the so-called journalists that reached out to me was Martin Vassolo, who introduced himself as a staff writer for the University of Florida campus newspaper "The Independent Alligator".  He did not conduct a formal interview but instead mailed me hand written questions.

I have a lot of respect for journalism schools and the commitment that many students have shown in the almost extinct science of true investigative journalism. As a death sentence prisoners I am reminded that it was a journalism class at Northeastern University that took it upon himself to thoroughly investigate every death row case in Illinois, discovering widespread evidence of prosecutional misconduct and exposed the innocence of at least 9 death row prisoners. As a direct result of that commitment to the true spirit of investigative journalism not only were those 9 wrongfully convicted and condemned prisoners of Illinois death row exonorated and released but the governor (Ryan) then ordered a commission to study the entire Illinois death penalty.  After that study, because of widespread flaws in how capital cases were handled, Illinois vacated every death sentence and executions stopped.

So, when I received a letter from Martin Vassolo asking me to respond to his questions, including about my consistently pled claim of innocence, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Although still a student, I assumed that he at least was familiar with principles of journalistic integrity -  or would have a responsible editor overseeing his work prior to publication. Imagine my surprise when I read the February 29th, 2016 article "From death row: the hope for freedom as a local inmate reaches out",  published in The Independent Alligator, although it certainly would have been more at home in the back pages of the National Enquirer.

                                                                 


Had I known that The Independent Alligator condones cheap tabloid sensationalism under the pretense of journalism, I certainly would never have responded to Martin Vassolo. Keep in mind that at the time I did respond I was waiting down the days to my scheduled execution (you can read my weekly death watch journals at http://deathrowjournals.blogspot.com/ and I was - and still am - quite literally fighting for my life.

While some of the largest newspapers in Florida fairly weighed the evidence substantiating my innocence, the "Alligator" instead took it upon themselves to exploit my desperation to prevent my execution for a crime I did not commit. Rather then objectively investigating the actual facts relevant to my case, as reflected in readily available court records, Martin Vassolo instead choose to write, and I quote "What do Ted Bundy and Michael Lambrix have in common? They both have pleasant faces, eloquent vocabularies and plausible stories...however, neither is innocent!

To reach this conclusion, rather then contact any of the prosecutors who actually were involved in my case, Martin Vassolo only reached out to none other than George Dekle, a prosecutor who's only claim to fame is that long ago he "helped put Ted Bundy to jail"

Let me emphasize, this particular prosecutor had absolutely nothing to do with my case - Mr Dekle has no knowledge of the evidence in my case, or the substantial and readily available evidence supporting my innocence. There was absolutely no reason to reach out to Mr Dekle but to shamelessly sensationalize the story by erecting a completely fictious connection between my case and that of Ted Bundy's.

But why would someone who aspires to be a credible journalist - or an editor who actually embraces basic concepts of of journalistic integrity - resort to such pathetic tabloid sensationalism? Does this form of journalism really reflect the values taught by the journalism school at the University of Florida?

I suppose only Martin Vassolo and his editor can answer that question, and for the record, that question was asked of Mr Vassolo, to which his reply was, and I quote: " In my article I aimed for balance. I told both sides of the story...all need to be considered fairly and in an unbiased manner".

Well, that certainly is a mouthful - you just got to love it when wannabe journalists already learned the art of speaking with a forked tongue. Mr Vassolo's article was anything but "fair and unbiased" and he certainly made no meaningful attempts to tell the whole story.

For example, Mr Vassolo made no mention of the indisputed fact that that the entire wholly circumstantial (i.e, no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, no confessions etc) theory of alleged premeditated murder was based on the self serving testimony of a single key witness, Frances Smith, who only went to law enforcement after she was arrested on unrelated charges, while in the exclusive possession of the victim's vehicle. Even then Smith gave law enforcement numerous conflicting stories and failed a polygraph test. But based on legal technicalities the jury was not allowed to hear about Smith's other stories, or that she failed a polygraph test. The first trial ended in a "hung" jury.

The only witness that coroborated Frances Smith's story was Deborah Hanzel, but years after that trial Hanzel unequivocally recanted, testifying under oath that Frances Smith and the prosecutor's lead investigator Miles Daniels had coerced her to provide that false testimony...it was then revealed that Smith and Daniels were having an illicit sexual relationship when the case was prosecuted. As if that wasn't enough, it was subsequently discovered that the prosecutor deliberately concealed numerous hairs found on the alleged murder weapon that the state has conceded belong to none other than Frances Smith.

But let's get back to what Mr Vassolo actually did write about - how he solicited comments from former prosecutor George Dekle, that "Lambrix could not have acted in self defence..because one hit from the tire iron would have left Moore unconcious rather than dead". What is especially troubling about this presumably "qualified" comment is that it's clear that  Mr Dekle made no attempt to actually look into the official autopsy report, and nor did Martin Vassolo.

Had either Vassolo or Dekle actually looked at the autopsy report, or read the testimony of the State's own medical examiner, they would have known that the State's own evidence shows that the deceased Moore was struck in the temporal forehead, at an angle consistent with Moore being the aggressor, a fact further supported by the virtual absence of any "defence wounds" - which is why the prosecutors familiar with this case reluctantly concede that the State's own evidence is consistent with my claim of being compelled to act in self defence.

But neither Martin Vassolo or the Independent Alligator had any intentions of actually looking at the readily available facts, or do an objective article - rather they only too readily embraced the lowest form of journalism - tabloid sensationalism, irreparably undermining the the integrity of the newspapers as a whole. This paper represents the student body of the University of Florida, and every student, especially those that aspire to be credible journalists - should be outraged by the article that Martin Vassolo wrote.

5 comments:

CS McClellan/Catana said...

I'm glad someone did send you a copy of the article and you were able to comment on its bias.

Hollie said...
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Hollie said...

This is absolutely disgusting that they would exploit your name and story in such a negative and obviously untrue way....I will definitely be sharing this blog post as well as writing to that so called newspaper and "journalist" student....this needs to be brought to the attention of whoever over-sees the articles published to the public. There needs to be a new article written that actually tells the TRUTH. That is SO incredibly cruel to do to a man who is literally fighting for his life and has evidence to even prove his own innocence...this is not even journalism this is an idiot who deceived Michael Lambrix when he trusted that he would not twist the story as he did. Yep, I am definitely writing to anyone I can in relation to that paper and specifically that jerk who has nothing else better to do than make ridiculous stories up for attention. Great job Martin Vassolo...you just made yourself and that paper you write for look like a bunch of incompetent a-holes. Next time do a little research before you make stuff up. Ok rant over.

Joe Wallace said...
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Joe Wallace said...
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