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Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Slippery Slope to State Sanctioned Murder

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As many of you may know, the execution of Michael Lambrix by the State of Florida is scheduled for February 11, 2016 at 6:00pm.  On Mike's behalf, please write to Governor Rick Scott (letters are better than emails but emails are better than nothing) and request that Michael Lambrix be given a clemency hearing before the full clemency board. Michael has never had an opportunity to present all of the evidence in support his request that his sentence be commuted. Basic fairness requires that evidence be considered. 

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
(850) 488-7146

By Michael Lambrix

At precisely 6:00 p.m. on the evening of February 11, 2016 I will be the victim of a deliberate act of cold-blooded murder. I know it´s coming—I know exactly where this crime will occur, who will carry this act out, and specifically how they intend to end my life—and there´s not a damned thing I can do to stop them from killing me. But make no mistake: this will be nothing less than an act of deliberate murder as I am innocent of the crime that they will put me to death for (see, www.southerninjustice.net)

What I also know, beyond any doubt whatsoever, is that those acting under the power of the state will not hesitate even for a minute in putting on innocent man (or woman) to death. Neither will they ever admit it. There will be neither reservation nor remorse, and if it did come out that they killed an innocent man, without even a suggestion of regret they will look you in the eye and insist they were just doing their job. This is how it is on that slippery slope to state-sanctioned murder and this is why under this pretense of administrating “justice” innocent people have been, and will continue to be, put to death by state executions.

There are those who will foam at the mouth like a rabid dog as they adamantly insist that with the multiple layers of prolonged appeals through both the state and federal court systems it is all but impossible for an innocent person to be put to death. But that simply is not true. What these self-proclaimed experts will not tell you (and they do know this) is that appellate review of a capital conviction and sentence of death are procedurally limited exclusively to legal claims addressing technical errors, and not the argument of innocence.

In fact, in Herrera v Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993) a majority of the Supreme Court unequivocally held that it does not violate the constitution to execute an innocent person. Under long established constitutional law, determining the guilt or innocence of a defendant is exclusively within the providence of the jury. Once a jury has reached a verdict of guilt, the “presumption of innocence” ends and in all subsequent proceedings there is a presumption of guilt that absolutely cannot be disturbed on appeal absent all but conclusive “new evidence” or substantive technical error so serious that the person was deprived of a “fair trial.”

But all of this is nothing less than a perverse smoke and mirrors show intended to project the illusion of “fairness,” yet all the while the ever-present “politics of death” manipulate this judicial review and ultimately that decision that determines whether you will live or die really has nothing to do with the weight of the evidence, but rather the political ideology of a particular judge. But how many are willing to look behind that proverbial curtain and question who the wizard really is?

In Herrera v Collins the Supreme Court assumed that if a person could establish beyond any reasonable doubt that he or she was, in fact, innocent then perhaps the court might find that execution constitutionally intolerable. In reaching this decision the Supreme Court concluded that post-conviction doubts about guilt or innocence are best left to the individual states through the “clemency process” which has historically been used to protect the innocent from being put to death when the judicial process has failed.

However, the Supreme Court failed to even acknowledge the indisputable fact that the state clemency process exists in hypothetical theory only. In truth, in death penalty states like Florida and Texas, although every death sentenced prisoner is provided an opportunity to request consideration of record of wrongful convictions (as defined by the number of death row prisoners exonerated and released) not a single person has been granted clemency in a capita (death sentence) case in almost 20 years.

Think about that for a moment. Our highest court made it clear that the question of innocence is not a legal issue subject to judicial review and that if there are doubts about a condemned person´s guilt, those are left to review by the state´s clemency process, but in truth, this clemency process does not realistically exist. At the end of the day neither the courts nor the politicians actually review a claim of innocence and the condemned prisoner is put to death. Only then (after the execution is carried out) the media will question whether an innocent person was executed and both the courts and the politicians will shrug it off with the tried and true party line that circumvents the question by saying that the case was reviewed multiple times—knowing full well that the courts never actually addressed that question of innocence.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy in all of this is that in this inherently dysfunctional process which all but advocates for the deliberate execution of the innocent, it really comes down to the apathy of the people. I humbly implore you to take a moment to reflect on that one word…APATHY. If you look in the dictionary “apathy” is technically defined as a lack of interest or emotion, but what it simply means is that we don´t care. There will always be those few who do find it morally unacceptable to even risk the execution of one person—and God bless them for that. But as a society, there´s that inescapable, albeit inconvenient, truth that as long as the death penalty continues to be practiced, that risk that innocent people will be put to death does exist—and yet this risk simply does not bother most people. It´s not even an issue they debate. And it's that apathy by society as a whole which allows the execution of the innocent to continue that is the true root of the problem as if there was a greater consensus that a presumably “civilized” society guided by moral principles “we the people” will not tolerate the risk of putting innocent people to death, then both the judges and politicians would take that extra measure to eliminate that risk.

In the past I have paraphrased the quote from Abraham Lincoln, “Evil can only hope to triumph when good people choose to do nothing.” That remains as true today as it did 150 years ago when Lincoln spoke those words.

When the State of Florida proceeds with putting me to death on that evening of February 11, 2016, this deliberate act of murder will be carried out only because the citizens of the state gave them the power to do so. Both Governor Rick Scott and the prison warden are merely doing their job. Neither actually even possess the power to just say “no”: it is their job, and if they do not do what they are required to do by law, then they will lose their job.

This machinery of death is a lot like a runaway train—once it´s on the tracks and steaming full speed ahead, it's everybody's job to keep it on the tracks, and apparently nobody's job to bring it to a stop before the damage is done. This is the fundamental flaw in our judicial process—while layer upon layer of both judicial and executive (clemency) review exists, nobody is actually responsible for ensuring that innocent people are not executed. The courts will say that it´s the governor´s responsibility through the executive clemency review process while the governor will always decline clemency review by saying that the case has been fully reviewed by the courts and order the execution to proceed.

Some might wonder how I can be so accepting of this fate that now awaits me. They expect that perhaps I should be angry and scream and maybe throw what little bit of property I have around. But what they don’t understand—what only a prisoner condemned to death could know—is that I didn´t just wake up this morning in this cell on death watch confronting the methodical count-down of my end of mortality. That´s not how the process works. And it is a process in which this long journey has its beginning and it has its end. I've written extensively about my journey in countless essays (please see “Alcatraz of the South” Part I—VIII) and my previously published book “To Live and Die on Death Row.” (now available as a free e-book, downloadable at my website www.southerninjustice.net)

I´ve done all I could to stop this runaway train. For 32 years I´ve slowly rotted away in my solitary cell one day at a time, all but screaming to anyone who would only listen, and it´s changed nothing. Although I´m truly blessed with my small group of friends who will continue to fight this fight with me, we all know that although we continue to hope for some miracle, my fate is all but sealed as once a death warrant has been signed, nothing can stop that runaway train. Since this current Tea Party conservative Florida Governor Rick Scott (himself a multi-billionaire) took office in 2010 he has signed 22 death warrants and not even one survived, making Governor Scott the most lethal governor in Florida´s history—and he still has about 3 years in office, with no reason to think he will not continue to kill as many as he can.

I know that many out there wonder why we don´t all go crazy, especially when dealing with this countdown to our own execution. But what most don´t understand is that through the years and years of appeals—and with each appeal our hope that the courts will do the right thing goes up only to come crashing back down again until we fight that inclination to hope at all—and as we watch helplessly as those who we lived in close proximity to, and come to know as only those cast down into this abyss together could, each were themselves led away and never returned, and with the countless letters I wrote to the media protesting my innocence never to get a response, finally as I entered that final stretch of this process, I knew only too well of what to expect. For that reason, I accept it for what it is.

Some of those closest to me have told me they admire my strength, but I am not strong, and I can only smile. They each see only small pieces of me, and by intent, I hide behind my own curtain projecting that all-powerful Wizard of Oz, yet knowing only too well that that´s all it really is—a show for those to see us even more than the misery of my own condemnation and that inevitable fate that casts its cold shadow in the not so distant horizon, after all that I´ve been through the greatest fear that remains is not how my all but certain end will come, but how will my now all but certain death affect those I leave behind.

When we think about the death penalty, most tend to focus only on the condemned and the victim´s family. And to be clear, nothing I say should be in any way seen as suggesting that the victim´s family´s pain should not be considered, as I cannot imagine the depth of pain they go through. But I don´t believe even for a minute that condemning a person to death brings “closure.” Instead, the prolonged process forces them to repeatedly relive that loss and tragedy. One of the most profound moments of my life was when I received a Christmas card from the mother of the victim in my case simply saying “I forgive you,” and  and I´d like to think that in that moment she found true closure too. (Please read “The Christmas Card”) But I still pray for the victim´s family.

However, there are those that suffer at least as much and too often in silence without recognition of the incomprehensible pain they much endure even though they did nothing to deserve this. I´m talking about the condemned prisoner´s own family and friends. Those who have shared this long journey towards that execution and suffered throughout even though they did no wrong. Although I am able to somewhat detach from what is to come as the process itself has conditioned me—and I´ve already been through this before when I came within hours of being executed the last time a death warrant was signed (please read “The Day God Died”)—I know that those closest to me suffer far more than I will and when I´m gone their pain will continue.

I suppose all this would even be easier if only I actually committed the crime the states claims I did. At least then those who care about me could find some measure of reason for what is to come. I have long ago resolved myself to the reality that our legal system really doesn´t care about truth or justice, but only that need for someone to be sacrificed at the altar of the politics of death. I know only too well that our courts are corrupt to the very core, nothing less than a contemporary Sodom and Gomorrah, and that if God were to look down upon them today, He would not find even one person of true moral character, and turn them all into pillars of salt.

I know what I am dealing with and so I have no expectations. I know that the judges that review my case in the coming weeks will not even address my claim of innocence as they each make the conscious decision to end my life. I have previously paraphrased Freidrich Nietzsche in describing those who sit in judgement of the condemned, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

You see, what most people give no thought to is that just as I did not suddenly wake up today in this solitary cell only steps away from the execution chamber, neither did the judges who preside over our cases suddenly wake up on the bench. They too are part of a process that ever-so-very-slowly eroded away their own sense of conscience. Most have spent decades being exposed daily to the worst of what humanity has to offer. They cannot even begin to understand how that prolonged exposure has changed who they are and they do not see that they have become the “monster” themselves, hardened by their experiences and incapable of seeing that someone might actually be innocent.

When it comes down to it, reality is nothing more than each of us perceive it to be. How we see things is not an objective process, but rather is an all but predictable result of our experiences. I hold no animosity towards those on the courts who will make that conscious decision to send me to my death for a crime I did not commit, just as they have sent so many others before me. Rather, I truly pity each of them as each and every time they´ve made that decision they´ve sacrificed a piece of their own humanity and yet they cannot see that. And when, because of their inability to objectively weigh the evidence, they turn a blind eye to a legitimate claim of innocence and send an innocent man to his death, they commit that act of state-sanctioned murder and become the instrument of evil themselves by fighting that monster for too long, it is human nature to become the monster.

The victim´s family finds justification in seeking vengeance, as that is what brings them comfort. The prosecutor finds justification in convicting and condemning an innocent man to death as society demands that someone must pay, and prosecutors don´t get promoted by losing cases. And judges—even those at the highest levels of our courts —find justification for making that conscious decision to put a person to death by believing that this is their ethical duty. Even the prison warden finds justification in methodically carrying out that execution as it´s not his (or her) place to determine guilt or innocence, but rather, he´s just doing his job—even when he sends an innocent man to his death.

But the family and friends of the condemned cannot find that comfort of justification that lessens that pain. I cannot even remember even one media story covering an execution that spoke of the pain inflicted on the family and friends of the condemned. For so many years, my parents made their way to the prison to visit me, too often at great sacrifice to themselves. The truth is that we were not always that close and they were not always a part of my life. But for the past 25 years we have been close and I have been blessed by their presence. Even as much as it means to me to have them visit, it pains me time and time again to watch out the windows when they leave after a visit and I see my now elderly mother pushing my stepfather´s wheelchair down the sidewalk towards the front gate.

My death will bring an end to my suffering, but it will only bring that much more pain to those close to me. My greatest fear as I count down these last week, then days, then hours until my scheduled execution is not so much that my life will end (as in a way I even selfishly welcome that, as my nightmare will finally end, too), rather, what causes the greatest pain is the anticipation of that last visit when I must say goodbye to those who care so deeply about me. How do I say goodbye to my mother and stepfather who have been there for me through all these years? How do I tell my children and grandchildren to be strong and not let my death drag them down? How do I find closure with my sisters who have already suffered so my pain because of me? Or my closest of “forever friends” who have themselves become my own source of strength as when I was weak they were there to support me?

They each did nothing wrong. Their only crime is that they love me and yet they will each suffer the most, and their pain will not be recognized. I know that society demands that I show remorse for my crime—even if I did not commit the acts they´ve convicted me of. But as I stand on that threshold of yet again confronting my own mortality, my greatest depth of remorse is for those that I brought so much pain to for no other reason but that they loved me. It is for them that I shed a tear, praying that when I am gone, they will find some measure of comfort in each other and just as they have each given so generously the strength for me to get through my own journey, I hope they will find strength in each other. But when I do go to my death, what will make it especially hard on those closest to me is that they know my case and they know I will be put to death for a crime I did not commit. And that is what will make that much harder on them.

I do understand that there are those who will insist that I am guilty of cold-blooded murder. It is our nature to need to believe that there are monsters amongst us if for no other reason but to defeat the beast we have created, and validate our own mortality.

But I´ve already said so many times before, I would challenge anyone to come forth with any credible evidence proving my guilt. I have consistently admitted to the part that I played in the tragic events that led to the deaths of Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant—and the state´s own evidence substantiates my claim that I acted in spontaneous self-defense when trying to stop Moore from fatally assaulting Bryant. But my jury never heard this and despite being pled in every state and federal appeal, no court has addressed my substantial claim of innocence. See www.southernjustice.net.

Now I sit in my cell on death watch only a few feet away from the execution chamber. The machinery of death carries on around me as with each minute of every hour of every day we count down to that appointed time in which they will come to my cell and lead me down those few final steps to where the gurney awaits and then in an exaggerated exercise of uncompromised professionalism without the slightest show of emotion, at precisely 6:00 p.m. on the 11th day of February 2016 they will push the needles into my veins on each of my arms and upon calculated signal of the warden, they will push down on the button that begins the three-drug cocktail that will be forced into my body and within minutes I will be put to death.

Through this methodical process, each of those involved will make that conscious decision to terminate my life. And it will be an act of deliberate state-sanctioned murder, as I did not commit the crime I was convicted of.

Endnote: You can read all the appeals filed in my case at www.southernjustice.net and a weekly journal of my death watch experience will be posted on my blog www.deathjournals.blogspot.com

You can sign a petition protesting my execution here 


Michael Lambrix 482053
Florida State Prison
7819 N.W. 228th Street Q-2301
Raiford, FL 32026-1100
.As many of you may know, the execution of Michael Lambrix by the State of Florida is scheduled for February 11, 2016.  On Mike's behalf, please write to Governor Rick Scott (letters are better than emails but emails are better than nothing) and request that Michael Lambrix be given a clemency hearing before the full clemency board. Michael has never had an opportunity to present all of the evidence in support his request that his sentence be commuted. Basic fairness requires that evidence be considered. 

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
(850) 488-7146

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

8 comments:

CS McClellan/Catana said...

Mike, I have to wonder about the silence here. Twelve hours since your moving words were published, without a single comment. The time difference, and the morning routine, means that I only now found it, but has everyone in the world been sleeping while your words waited to be read? Or do they, as you suggested, just not care? Is it possible for anyone who considers themself to be human to read your words and be unmoved?

I know, as does anyone who concerns themself in any way with criminal justice, that what you said about the system is true. The "justice" system is not set up to search out the truth about guilt or innocence; it is a machine that mindlessly adheres to arcane rules. The proof is that, just as you said, proof of innocence is no guarantee that you will not be executed. It is a machine that slowly and invisibly turns well-intentioned people into becoming complicit in the act of cold-blooded, legally sanctioned murder.

To those who read this post and say nothing, I offer a suggestion, in case it is ignorance about the law and uncertainty about the truth of Mike's words that keeps you silent. Please read defense attorney David Dow's book, Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on American's Death Row. It isn't a very long book. It isn't hard to read. But it will show you what's behind the long painful path to the execution chamber that so many innocent men and women are forced to take.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry. Words are so inadequate.

Michael writes very well and I have read nearly all his articles. Will the recent Supreme Court ruling to do with the Florida death penalty have any bearing on this case? I am quite certain that Michael is not the same man that lived thirty five years ago. We all change and grow old and become wiser.

I did not know until this morning,(Jan 15) that Michael had received an execution date.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy Mike's work and hope that there's a stay of execution to be found in the recent Supreme Court ruling. And hopefully that ruling will soon, in turn, lead to abolition.

Maybe some are silent for the same reason I am in this instance. I have taken the time to read through the volumes of info on Mike's site, and can come to no other conclusion than he is guilty. I think in such cases there is not much support for the clearly guilty (Hank Skinner is another example that comes to mind), and it undermines support for abolition overall.

That being said, I hope Mike gets a stay and is never executed. I do not believe even the guilty should be executed, if only to protect the truly innocent that he mentions.

Best of luck.

Jenneke said...

I am very sorry to read this. I always enjoyed reading your stories and this story was really heartbreaking. Guilty or not, I do not believe the death penalty to be an answer when a grave offence has occured.

I think the silence is down to a number of things: What do you say to a man that only has a few weeks left to live? I still don't know to be honest. I can image people wanting to leave some words of comfort, only to feel that words are failing them. If people do not visit the website daily, have might not have seen it yet, perhaps some do not believe the claim of innocence.

Mike, from the bottom of my heart I wish you and loved one strength in the days to come. I hope that you will be granted another stay and be with us a while longer. I believe your stories truly touched the heart of many and it proves once again that people can and do change, guilty or not. Take care in the days to come.

Joe said...

I was disturbed to hear that Mike's death warrant was signed. I've read his entries over the years and always found them insightful, interesting, and moving.

Due to the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Florida's death penalty sentencing process I hold on to some hope that he may at least receive a stay when his case is reviewed in early February.

I take some solace in the belief that based on his writings, Mike seems to be handling the situation about as well as one can in his circumstances. If the worst happens, at least it will be an end to his suffering. I am concerned about how this will effect his parents and other family members, and can only hope they handle it as well as possible should the worst happen.

Joe said...

I appreciate your frankness; I think too often death penalty opponents can't seem to express their opposition to the death penalty without feeling compelled to insist that those condemned to death are innocent (and indeed paragons of virtue as well).

Certainly when there is compelling evidence that those condemned to death are innocent it is essential to call attention to it. However, I think it's a mistake for death penalty opponents to unreflectively insist that all condemned inmates are innocent, as this undermines arguments that the death penalty is wrong in and of itself without respect to the guilt or innocence or moral fiber of the condemned, as it implies that if they were actually guilty then their execution would be morally permissible. In this way they unwittingly reinforce the idea that the death penalty is a morally reasonable punishment provided the condemned are actually guilty (which they almost certainly don't intend).

I commend the administrators of MB6 for allowing your comment to be published, despite your doubts in Lambrix's innocence.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the guilty or innocent question, to do with people who have been condemned to death, is absolutely irrelevant. The death penalty is an obscenity, and we are all stained by its continued use in the United States, and elsewhere in the world.

I would also like to add that it seems to me, that the people looking after Michael during this time, are shouldering a terrible load, in order to put bread on the table. What goes through a person's mind as he takes the measurements for an 'execution suit' or the clerk who sits down in front of a man and goes through the menu of his last meal before execution, or the guard who sits in front of the cell and takes notes of how the condemned is behaving. I do not buy the business of "I am just doing my job".

Anonymous said...

I am profoundly sadden by the news of Michael's Lambrix's pending execution although somewhat hopeful when I read that the Florida's Supreme Court has ruled that Florida's execution laws are unconstitutional. If there was ever a time to put a moratorium on all executions across the USA, now is the time!......Our system is not only immoral and unconstitutional....... its broken! New scientific studies have discounted many accepted forensic findings in addition to evidence that extended solitary confinement (death-row) causes major brain damage and should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Evidence of prosecutorial misconduct is at an all time high. The huge amount of death-row exoneration's prove that innocent people have been executed in Florida and throughout our country, you have a one in four chance of being innocent according to the statistical information on the percentage of exoneration's to the number of inmates on death row in Florida.

Just in the last 3 years there have been a number of botched executions in our country. It took 2 hours to kill Joseph Woods in Arizona after gasping 660 times, according to witnesses. Executioners in Oklahoma pushed an IV catheter straight through a vein in Clayton Lockett’s groin, so that the drugs filled his tissue and not his bloodstream. As Lockett writhed and grimaced, the executioners closed the curtains and tried to call off the execution, he eventually died of a heart attack. Most of the free world has refused to supply death-penalty drugs so there is a huge shortage........ lets improvise and use drugs not proven to keep the killings to continue..........accepted thought in many of our states.

The saying “If you don't have the capital, you get the capital punishment” is more than timely with our present system of an inordinate amount of death-row inmates who could not afford competent counsel.....there are too many examples that I can count when the actual shooter in a murder case pleads out with life in prison and the accomplice gets sentenced the death-penalty...due to poor representation and lack of funds. Race is another example of our broken system. A recent report from the General Accounting Office concluded that in 82 percent of the studies (reviewed) race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty......those who murdered whites were more likely to be sentenced to death then those who murdered black. Many current studies point to the same conclusion......we have not move past our shameful past as we continue to discriminate in the worst way, by killing and incarcerating our black countryman disproportionately.

We as a country hold ourselves up to the high moral standards of our constitution as we fight for freedom throughout the world............but the company we keep with only 32 countries in the world that have the death penalty is embarrassing.....especially if you consider 2 of them we are still at war with, Iran and Afghanistan..........hypocrisy has never been so blatant.

I will be sending Florida's governor........Rick Scott a letter, hopefully he has a conscious and heart but most importantly........the courage to do what is right. Hang in there Michael Lambrix..........hope is not lost.

Marlene Watkins