Thursday, October 27, 2016

Death Watch Journal (part 23 )



 As I write this, it has now been 36 weeks since the Florida Supreme Court ordered a "temporary" stay of execution only a week before I was to be put to death for a crime i did not commit (see; http://www.southerninjustice.net/ )That's not even counting the fact that prior to this stay of execution, I spent from November 30, 2015 to February 2, 2016 under an active death warrant on "death watch". So, in truth its now been going on a full year that I've been under death warrant with that (metaphorican) gun to my head, not knowing whether I will live or die - and knowing only too well that at anytime  they can come to my cell and drag me away, right back again to that "death watch" cell I previously occupied, the same cell where every man and woman executed in the state of Florida also occupied prior to being put to death  (please read : Execution Day - Involuntary Witness to State Sanctioned Murder)

I have to wonder at what point would even the most fanatical pro death penalty advocate conced that the psychological torment so deliberately inflicted upon the condemned under the pretense of administering justice become an even greater atrocity than the alleged act of murder committed by the condemned? At what point do we cross that line from administering "justice" to inflicting acts of depravity that make who we are the greater evil?

But the truth of the matter is that even as hard as it might be on me and others similarly forced to exist in this morbid and maliciously inflicted state of limbo, this uncertainty of death is actually even more difficult on my family and closest friends. Those who will so quickly justify their actions by transfering all accountability upon the individual who committed the alleged crime and with righteous indignation declare that the condemned deserves all the punishment they can inflict upon him or her cannot so quickly evade their actions when as a result, they also so intentionally torment the families of the condemned.

The inconvenient truth is that it's not about administering "justice". It's about playing politics, and especially in the Deep South, politics of death are the trump cards that inconsistently wins political elections as in these traditional southern states nothing brings out the voters better than a good, old fashioned lynching.

We like to say that as a society we have evolved, that those dark days of wearing white sheets and lynching an "undisirable" up on the lower branches of an old oak tree on the outskirts of town are long gone, but in our hearts, we know that's not true.

I recently read a most excellent article published in the magazine "The New Yorker"
on August 22, 2016 entitled "The legacy of lynching, on death row" by Jeffrew Toobin, in which renowned attrney Bryan Stevenson draws a direct and irrefutabe line between that not so distant past of southern lynchings and the death penalty today. This is an article that every person who gives any thought to the issue of the death penalty should read - especially those who continue to blindly support this form of "punishment".

But then again, if there's one thing I've learned in the over 33 years that I've been here on Florida's death row, it is that indisputable fact and logic are rarely enought to sway the minds of those already hell bent on having a good lynching...their blood lust blinds them of all else, and they don't even care if they kill a few innocent people along the way.

As I write this, we are now only a short while away from the presidential election and this is especially perhaps one of the most important elections ever for not only death penalty prisoners, but our society as a whole, as whoever wins this upcoming election will have the power to influence who we are as a society for generations to come.

                                                                 

Obviously, the choice will come down to either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Personally, I will never understand how anyone could support Donald Trump as he embodies and even personifies the worst of the worst characteristics of our society, while arrogantly proclaiming himself above all accountability for his never ending circus of transgressions. But it's not his arrogance and sense of entitlement that trouble me the most. Rather, it's his public promise of who he will appoint to the Supreme Court if he wins the election.

When justice Scalia died earlier this year, it created a vacancy on the Supreme Court that is of historic significance since Scalia was appointed to the court 40 years ago, fanatically pro death penalty justices have solidly controlled the courts, ensuring that after the landmark 1972 decision in Florida v Georgia declared the death penalty unconstitutionally "arbitrary and capricious", only a few years later Scalia and his conservative cabal quickly resurected it in the 1976 decision of Gregg v Georgia and Proffitt v Florida.

And for the 40 continuous years, we have seen one case after another be decided by marginal votes, affirming the death penalty again and again. But Scalia's death left the current court now tied with 4 pro death penalty conservatives and 4 members who presumably would vote to put an end to this politically motivated modern day lynching.

The next appointed Supreme Court justice will effectively decide the direction the Supreme Court goes in for the next generation...and whether the death penalty will once again be declared unconstitutional and abolished.

That's why it troubled me this past week when I read the front page article of the September 24, 2016 Lakeland Ledger entitled "Trump tops Canady as potential court pick " . For those who don't know, that's Charles T Canady, who is currently a justice on the Florida Supreme Court and prior to his political appointment to the bench, worked as general counsel to former Florida governor Jeb Bush - it was none other than Charles Canady who attempted to defend Jeb Bush's "Death Penalty Reform Act" of 2000 before the Florida Supreme Court, which sought to adopt Texas death penalty appeal process to florida. But in Allen v. Butterworth, 756 So. 2d 52 (Fla. 2000) the Florida Supreme Court rejected Canaby's arguements and declared the Death Penalty Reform Act 2000 unconstitutional.

                                                               

Shortly after Canaby's defeat, Governor Jeb Bush appointed him to the lower state appeals court, where Canaby stayed for a few years before Jeb Bush's republican successor Charlie Crist promoted Charles Canaby to the Florida Supreme Court.

With Canady now Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme court, the pro death penalty politicians quickly pushed through the state legislature a new proposed law they labeled the "Timely Justice Act" (please read "The List" which in some ways went beyond the previously rejected "Death penalty Reform Act".

This time the outcome was significantly different - with Charles Canaby and Rick Polston controlling the Florida Supreme Court, this 2013 "Timely Justice Act" that sought to expedite executions by statutorily mandating the signing of death warrants upon completion of the "first round" of state and federal appeals - even if new evidence of actual innocence is revealed  - sailed through the courts and became law in Abdool v. Bondi, 141 So. 3d 529 (Fla. 2014)

Since being politically appointed to the Florida Supreme Court, justice Canady has relentlessly campaigned to eliminate death row appeals and expedite executions, even openly advocating for prohibiting actual innocence claims brought upon newly discovered evidence.

And this is precisely the kind of justice Donald Trump wants to put on the Supreme Court if he's elected as president. According to the Lakeland Ledger article, the reason Donald Trump would like to put Charles Canaby on the US Supreme Court is because Trump wants his pick to the court to embrace the ideology of the late justice Scalia...or in other words, Trump wants to ensure that the only Americans who have any legal rights are the rich and special interests.

When it comes down to it, it's not about administering justice. If it was, then those appointed to the courts would embrace uncompromised laws to protect the innocent from being put to death. Rather, it's about politics, and by preventing the innocent from any meaningful opportunity to prove their innocence, these fanatical pro death penalty justices know that their push to expedite executions will win elections.

Michael Lambrix

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Death Watch Journal (part 22)

Imagine being condemned to death for a crime you did not commit, and then finding yourself under an active death warrant, facing imminent execution - and having to basically defend yourself against the relatively infinate resources of the state...not even Hollywood can come up with such a bizarre plot.

But that's the reality I've found myself in these past months. It's now over 9 months (November 30, 2015) since Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a death warrant scheduling my execution for February 11, 2016 and over 6 months since, only days before my scheduled execution, the Florida Supreme Court granted a temporary stay of execution as they decide whether the January 2016 US Supreme Court decision in Hurst v Florida (which declared that Florida's practise of having the judge ultimately determine whether to impose death sentence rather than the jury renders Florida's death penalty unconstitutional) effectively makes my death sentence illegal... a decision will most likely be delayed until after the November elections as when it comes down to it, the death penalty is about politics, not justice.

During this period of time as I remained under this still-active death warrant, I've begged and pleaded with my state assigned legal counsel to work on developping new appeals, but when it comes down to it, they've refused to do anything. Maybe they are so confident that the Florida Supreme Court will throw out my death sentence that they just don't see any point in doing anymore work... but what if they are wrong and the Florida Supreme Court rules against me, as id that is the case then under Florida law the governor is mandted to to reschedule my execution within 10 days of when the court rules against me and I'd again be facing imminent execution.

If there's one thing I'm absolutely certain of after all these years, it's that if I were to sit back and let my life depend on the state assigned lawyers to fight this fight on their own, I would had undoubtedly been dead many years ago and it almost killed me in 1988 when I came within hours of being executed and so I make it a point to become personally involved with my own appeals - and if that means bumping heads with the lawyers assigned to represend me, then so be it! - I already know how hard-headed I am, so I can take it!

So, for 7 months now I've done all I could to try to get my assigned lawyers to do something, but all I get is a lot of talk. They do cover their own butt, though - almost every week they'll communicate with me and always in a manner that leaves no written record so that if I claim that they've effectively abandoned me, they can show that they did a 30 minute legal phone call or whatever each week.

My problem is that unlike my lawyer, I am not waiting on the Florida Supreme Court to rule on whether the Florida death penalty is unconstitutional. Even assuming they did rule favorably on that issue, the most it would do is reduce my death sentence to life in prison, and as Pope Francis put it so well, a "life" sentence is effectively a slow death sentence.

Rather, from the day I was arrested on that crime I have always and unequivocally maintained my innocence, adamantly insisting that the key witness and the prosecutor deliberately fabricated this wholly circumstantial ( i.e., no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidense, no confessions, etc) theory of alleged premeditated murder - the key witness (Frances Smith) was desperate to do anything to get immunity and the local small-town prosecutor was as equally desperate to make a name for himself....it's not merely a coincidence that this same prosecutor has already had two others in unrelated cases subsequently exonorated and released from Florida's death row after the Florida Supreme Court recognized that this prosecutor crossed the line with overzealous prosecution (John Ballard and Bradley Scott were both set free due to prosecutional misconduct)

I am, and always have been, fighting for my freedom and so even if the florida Supreme Court did reduce my current death sentence to life, that would be a "hollow" victory. My state assigned lawyers would celebrate that "victory", but I would not...only my freedom is a real victory.

But of the state assigned lawyers controlling my case have effectively given up, then what am I to do? The vast majority of those sentenced to death simply do not have the intellectual capacity to understand the complexities of the law and are basically helpless. But I'm not your average death sentenced prisoner, and I'm not going to just lay down and give up....I didn't fight this fight for 33 years to quit now.

                                                                   


So, I did the only thing I could do....I wrote up my own appeal and recently filed it in the US Supreme Court, explaining to the court that both the State of Florida and lower courts have unfairly stacked the deck not only against me, but against many of Florida's death sentenced prisoners, by assigning US state agency lawyers who under Florida law are strictly prohibited from pursueing any form of "civil" action challenging our conviction and sentence of death...and I am asking the Supreme Court to exercise their jurisdiction by expeditiously ordering the appointment of new legal counsel that can represent me in what must be pursued.

Specifically, for over 25 years the prosecutor deliberately concealed forensic evidence in my case that conclusively shows that the Florida (FDLE) crime lab found several hairs on the alleged murder weapon that they determined in 1983 did not match me or either of the victims. These only recently exposed crime lab records also conclusively show that when the crime lab told the prosecutor about this unexpected discovery, the prosecutor instructed the crime lab to return all this evidence to his office - and he then hid the evidence until it was accidently revealed in 2009.

But when my state assigned lawyers filed a new appeal in 2009 argueing that this blatant act of deliberate prosecutional misconduct required the court to throw out my conviction and allow a new trial, suddenly my case was reassigned to Judge Christine Greider - a local former prosecutor who previously  worked with prosecutor Randall McGruther and in fact, was appointed to the bench while McGruther himself was on the 20th Circuit Judicial nominating committee.

Not surprisingly, Judge Greider summarily denied the appeal even after the Asst Attorney General representing the state conceded that the previously undisclosed hairs most likely were the key witnesses hair and that they never did disclose this evidence.

A motion to have this previously undisclosed forensic evidence subjected to DNA testing was filed - by me, but was also summarily denied by Judge Greider. The Florida Supreme Court subsequently affirmed the summary denial, rejecting our arguements that under well established law it was per se reversible error to deny this "new evidence/actual innocence" appeal and request for DNA testing without providing any form of evidentiary process necessary to establish the materiality of this deliberately concealed evidence.

My only recourse at that point would be to file a federal civil action under Skinner v. Switzer S.Ct. 1289 (2011) as a means to challenge the denial of DNA testing necessary to establish my actual innocence as "arbitrary and unfair" but under Florida law my assigned state counsel is categorically prohibited from representing death sentenced prisoners in civil actions.

So, last year (before my death warrant was signed) I asked the Federal court to appoint Federal counsel to my case as is statutorily mandated under applicable Federal law (18 U.S.C. 3599), only to have the Federal Court refuse to do so, leaving me with only the state assigned counsel. I appealed this to the Eleventh Circuit court of appeals in January, while facing imminent execution, but Chief Judge Edward Cornes has refused to allow the case to be docketed - as he has done in other similar capital cases (Judge Cornes and his Alabama cronies are knwon for their fanatical support for the death penalty and overzealous pursuit of executions)

With few remaining options - obviously I simply don't have the ability to hire a lawyer to represent me and contrary to popular myth there are no lawyers willing to volunteer to help an innocent man avoid execution - my only remanining option was to write up the appeal myself and file it with the Supreme Court, which I did on August 17, 2016.

If you like to read this 32 page appeal asking the Supreme Court for help in getting legal representation so I can prove my innocence, you can read it in HERE . You can follow the progress of this appeal on the Supreme Court's website at https://www.supremecourtus.gov/  and pull up the case, docketed as In re: Cary Michael Lambrix, Case No. 16-5715 (https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=/docketfiles/16-5715.htm )

What does it say about our legal system that a poor and uneducated man facing imminent execution for a crime he did not commit must write up and file hos won appeals? The reality of it is that in capital cases, the appointment of legal representation is most often a total pretene intended to project the appearance of fairness in an inherently unfair process. - Mike Lambrix