If we’ve learned nothing else over the past 34 years in continuous solitary confinement on Florida´s “death row,” it is that I cannot stop the State of Florida from executing me for a crime I did not commit.
If you´re reading this, then it means that Florida Governor, Rick Scott has rescheduled my execution. This despite numerous pending appeals in which I am arguing that a wealth of readily available (including DNA) evidence exists that will substantiate my claim of innocence.
I understand the skepticism towards a condemned man´s claim of innocence, especially when it comes up only after an execution has been scheduled. Proponents of the death penalty perpetrate the myth that everyone sentenced to death claims to be innocent. The same people also insist that not even one innocent person has ever been sentenced to death despite the fact that over 150 men and women have been exonerated and released from death rows in recent years. And they will also tell you that not even once has an innocent person been executed despite numerous justices on our highest courts publically admitting that innocent people have been, and will continue to be, executed despite their innocence. See: “Justice Questions Guilt of Executed”, Gainesville Sun, December 24, 1998, “Justice O´Conner: They System May Well be Allowing Innocent Defendants to be Executed”, St. Petersburg Times, July 4, 2001.
Florida, by far, leads the country in the number of innocent men and women released from death row after courts found that they were wrongly convicted and condemned to death (see: www.DPIC.org). But the Florida Courts have proven especially hostile towards post-conviction claims of innocence, and often deny DNA testing of evidence. For this reason, at least one former chief Justice of the Florida Supreme court has publically acknowledged that Florida has put innocent people to death. In a public speech given in Orlando, Florida on October 23, 1999 former Chief Justice Gerald Kogan stated that:
“I estimate that in the past 40 years, I have participated either as a prosecutor, as a defense attorney, or as a trial judge, or as an appellate justice on the Florida Supreme Courte in the disposition of more than 1,200 capital cases…There is no question in my mind, and I tell you this having seen the dynamics of our criminal justice system over the many years that I have been associated with it…that convinces me that we certainly have, in the past, executed those people who either didn´t fit the criteria for execution in the State of Florida, or who, in fact were factually not guilty of the crime for which they have been executed.”
Those who think that innocent people are not being executed under the pretense of administering “justice” don´t understand just how completely corrupt our legal system truly is, especially when it comes to the “politics of death” and the vengeance driven demand for an execution.
The real tragedy of this is that my case is by no means the exception, but rather indicative of a process that guarantees innocent people be put to death.
It would be easy to place the blame exclusively on the politicized judicial system. One in which, especially at the highest levels, judges are politically appointed based on their promise of being unwaveringly pro-death penalty. But that would ignore the inconvenient truth that the real cause is the apathy of the general public. Too few in our society today could even care less if an innocent person was executed.
The most vocal proponents of capital punishment call themselves “Christians.” They embrace the “pro-life” movement even while foaming at the mouth as they scream for vengeance. They don´t trust government in their own lives, but they don´t question government when it comes to taking someone else´s life in their name.
Most people don´t even realize that the Supreme Court has already declared that states are not constitutionally prohibited from executing the innocent after a conviction has been obtained. The courts are empowered only to address alleged claims of legal error. See: Herrera v Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993). Legally, innocence simply is not an issue.
It is against this backdrop that I count down these last days before I am to die. I must accept the reality that I will be executed for a crime I did not commit. A theory of events deliberately fabricated by a witness desperate to protect herself from prosecution and an overzealous, politically ambitious prosecutor only too willing to do whatever it would take to win a conviction by any means necessary.
What must also be pointed out up front is that especially in capital cases, such inconvenient concepts as truth and justice are abandoned. What matters is that someone is held accountable. Society demands vengeance.
Few people take even a moment to contemplate the distinction between administrating justice and inflicting vengeance. In fact, most assume they are one of the same. But they are wrong. In justice, truth matters and the governing mandate is to do what is fair and what is right. In contrast, when inflicting vengeance all that matters is that the insatiable thirst for revenge is gratified, and whether the person may be innocent simply doesn´t matter. Vengeance is just as satisfied by sacrificing the innocent as it is by holding the guilty accountable.
Prosecutors don´t build their careers by losing cases and our vengeance-driven legal system is corrupted by a practice of rewarding prosecutors who will win by any means necessary. Even if it means knowingly convicting and condemning the innocent…and they will never admit they deliberately sent an innocent man to death row.
To illustrate this inconvenient truth, I´m not the only innocent man that the prosecutor in my case sent to Florida´s death row. Randall McGruther, the prosecutor in my case, also prosecuted two other capital cases in which the Florida Supreme Court subsequently threw out the convictions upon finding that McGruther manipulated wholly circumstantial evidence to convince the jury of guilt when in fact, there was no credible evidence of guilt. Both John Ballard and Bradly Scott were judicially exonerated and released from prison. See: Ballard v State 923, So.2d 475 (Fla. 2006) and Scott v State 581 So.2d, 887 (Fla.1991) (note, you can easily pull up court rulings/opinions at www.findlaw.com).
The Courts undoubtedly know that those representing the state routinely cross ethical lines to win a conviction by any means necessary and have admonished Florida prosecutors for this malicious epidemic of “win by any means necessary” repeatedly. But these judicial admonishments are rhetorical. The majority of judges are themselves former prosecutors who built their own careers engaging in the same unethical behavior. The courts have admonished prosecutors and warned of “dire consequences” if this “win by any means” behavior continued to corrupt the integrity of the judicial process in capital cases. But not even once have the Florida Courts actually taken any form of disciplinary action against any prosecutor who had blatantly crossed ethical lines. See, e.g.: Ruiz v State, 743, So.2d.1 (Fla. 1999); (Ld, at pg 8, specifically warning of “dire consequences” if Florida prosecutors continue to unethically prosecute capital cases); García vs State 622, So.2d.1325 (Fla. 1993); Nowitzy v State, 572 So.2d. 1346 (Fla. 1990). As the Florida supreme Court plainly stated in Gore v State, 719 So.2d. 1197 (Fla. 1998) (Ld, ar1202)
“The conduct of the prosecutor was anti-ethical to his responsibilities as an officer of the court…While prosecutors should be encouraged to prosecute cases with earnestness and vigor, they should not be at liberty to strike ´foul blows´, See: Berger v United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88, 55 sect. 629, 79 L. Ed. 1314 (1935). As the United States Supreme Court observed over sixty years ago, “it is as much (the prosecutor´s) duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one”. The prosecutor in this case exceeded the bounds of proper conduct and professionalism and provided a “textbook” example of overzealous advocacy. This type of excess is especially egregious in time, a death case, where both the prosecutors and courts are charged with an extra obligation to ensure that the trial is fundamentally fair in all respects.”
If society executes a thousand guilty men and women, we can arguably call that administering “justice”. But when we cross that line and allow even one innocent person to be put to death under the pretense of administering justice, then that is NOT AN ACCIDENT. It clearly is avoidable and thus an act of cold-blooded, premeditated murder.
I cannot stop the state of Florida from murdering me. They control the entire process. However, that does not mean that I must simply lay down and die. My options are obviously limited – above all else, I will exercise restraint and maintain my dignity.
For that reason, my final option is to pursue a passive protest by engaging in a “hunger strike.” I am by no means the first to do a hunger strike to protest an injustice. Throughout history hunger strikes have been done by those such as myself – victims of injustice.
Declaring and maintaining a “hunger strike” as I count down the days until my scheduled execution won´t change the outcome. Truth and justice cannot hope to prevail in a system so intrinsically corrupt. My hope is that it will awaken a few who will look into the facts and evidence of my case and maybe, just maybe, even be willing to confront the inconvenient truth that we are executing the innocent.
Both politicians and judges like to say that as a society we demand nothing less than a moral certainty of guilt before we allow any state to take a person´s life. But that simply is not true. Overzealous prosecution in capital cases is not only tolerated, it is encouraged and even rewarded, and the courts then simply refuse to even look at the evidence substantiating a claim of innocence as they send the victim of that wrongful conviction to their death. And just as those prosecutors know that they fabricated evidence (and concealed exculpatory evidence), the courts know what they are doing. But they have long abandoned any pretense of moral character or ethical constraint.
My only hope is that by taking my last stand, it will compel the media to look at the evidence in my case and expose the system for what it is. I would like to think that even those who support the death penalty will not support a legal system that puts innocent people to death.
I also understand why anyone reading what I write will be skeptical of my claim of innocence. For that reason I ask that instead of listening to what I have to say, those reading this will look to what has been filed with the courts. Look at the facts and evidence contained in the record and let that speak for itself. I am confident that those who objectively review the record facts and evidence will reach the conclusion that Florida is putting me to death for a crime I did not commit. A theory of events deliberately fabricated with the intent to wrongfully convict me and condemn me to death.
By the state´s own admission, the wholly circumstantial (i.e., no eye witnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, no confessions, etc.) theory of alleged “premeditated” murder brought against me rested entirely upon the testimony of the state´s key witness, Frances Smith. In the state´s own words, “clearly the state´s case was built on Frances Smith…the entire case, premeditation and everything is proven in her testimony. And there has never been any question about that.”
Recently my state-assigned legal counsel has filed a “Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus” in the Florida Supreme Court specifically arguing that I am constitutionally entitled to have all the evidence substantiating my factual innocence heard before any death sentences can be carried out.
I would implore those reading this to take time to fully read that ‘habeas´ petition, now pending before the Florida Supreme Court as Lambrix v Jones, case No. 17 _____ .
If you will read this action, it will detail not only the facts of my case, but also the virtual wealth of readily available evidence that collectively shows that the state´s key witness, Frances Smith, did fabricate her story of premeditated murder and collaborated with the local state attorney´s office to conceal evidence that would have exposed her lies. That they coerced witnesses to provide false testimony and prevent the jury from hearing the truth.
Notably, my case was brought to trial in one of the smallest rural farming communities in the South – Glades County, Florida. It was the biggest case to hit the small town and the local prosecutor was eager to make a name for himself. As stated above, this is the same prosecutor who sent at least two others to death row under remarkably similar circumstances – premeditated murder. In both those other cases, the convictions were thrown out for overzealous prosecution. See, Ballard v State, 923 So.2d.475 (Fla. 2006) and Scott v State, 581 So.2d. 887 (Fla. 1991).
As the evidence shows, the entire case rested on the testimony of key witness Frances Smith (who testified that she did not actually see me commit any act of violence, and in fact, testified that when she last seen me with Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant, we were all “laughing, teasing and playing around”). But what the jury never heard was that Smith actually told the law enforcement officers numerous conflicting stories prior to coming up with the one that won her immunity from prosecution – and even after she came up with this story of premeditated murder, she failed a state administered polygraph test.
The only witness that corroborated her otherwise unsupported claim that I had told her I intended to kill Moore and Bryant was Deborah Manzel. However, in 1998 Manzel came forward and admitted that it was not true- that I never told her I killed anyone; subsequently Manzel testified in court that Smith and the local state attorney´s lead investigator Miles “Bob” Daniels worked together to coerce her to provide that false trial testimony. But the court refused to accept Manzel´s testimony upon an ambiguous conclusion that “recantations are exceedingly unreliable” See, Lambrix v State, Florida Supreme Court “Initial Brief” case No. SC08-064, decided in Lambrix v State, 34 So.3d. 260 (Fla. 2010).
Smith´s own recently divorced ex-husband Douglas Schwendemann informed my legal counsel that shortly after my trial, Smith “often bragged” about how she was protected from prosecution because of a sexual affair she had at the time with the lead investigator “Bob” Daniels. When confronted with this, Smith admitted under oath that it was true – that she did have a relationship “of a sexual nature” with the prosecutor´s lead investigator during the prosecution of the case, and that they deliberately concealed this relationship.
But when Investigator Daniels testified, he denied having any such affair. On further examination, he then conceded that even if it was true, he would not admit to it as it would cause problems in his marriage and place his state retirement pension at risk.
Although evidence that the state failed to disclose such a relationship between a key witness and the state’s lead investigator would have warranted a new trial, the state court concluded that key witness Smith “was not credible” and Investigator Daniels’ denial of an affair was credible. The court simply ignored Daniels´ testimony that he would not admit to it even if it was true.
Further, the state court refused to allow to be heard additional evidence that would have corroborated both Manzel´s sworn testimony that Smith and Daniels worked together to coerce her to provide false testimony and Smith´s own admission that she was involved with Daniels.
Specifically, my legal counsel retained one of the most experience homicide investigators in the country, Dr. William Gaut, to independently examine the case. The question: whether Daniels’ investigation that resulted inmy conviction was tainted by his alleged relationship with key witness Smith. In a proferred report submitted to the court, Dr. Gaut detailed how from the very beginning of Daniels´ investigation, Daniels ignored or otherwise concealed crucial facts and evidence that objectively left no doubt that key witness Smith was lying about her claim of what happened. But the state courts refused to allow Dr. Gaut to present his conclusions.
Not long after the original trial court denied the above, a private party looking into my case inadvertently discovered numerous previously undisclosed state crime lab reports (over 100 pages). These showed that contrary to the prosecutor´s claim at trial, no forensic evidence was ever recovered, in fact, the state crime lab found several hairs on the alleged murder weapon that their own microscope analysis concluded did not match either victim or myself.
These previously undisclosed state crime lab records reflect that when the crime lab contacted the prosecutor, Randal McGruther, he instructed the crime lab to immediately terminate any further testing and return all this evidence to his office. McGruther then failed to disclose this evidence, deliberately concealing it as a state record´s repository until it was accidentally found in 1999.
When my lawyers then attempted to raise this “new evidence” in the state courts, the Chief Judge (William Cary) reassigned the case to the prosecutor´s long-time colleague and close friend, Judge Christine Greider. The state´s attorneys then admitted that this evidence was never previously disclosed – and then conceded that these hairs found on the alleged murder weapon actually were key witness Smith´s own hair! But the state then disingenuously argued that since Smith admitted to being present that night, her own hair (and nothing else) on the alleged murder weapon meant nothing.
Judge Greider eagerly embraced this absurd argument and summarily denied the appeal upon a finding that the prosecutors’ deliberate concealment of this evidence was not material. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court then upheld Judge Greider´s ruling – but it must be noted that by the time my case reached the Florida Supreme Court, none other than former assistant Attorney General Peggy Quince was the Chief Justice. She had been part of the prosecution team during post conviction when this crucial evidence was deliberately concealed.
My lawyers then moved for DNA testing of the clothing and hair, which was not previously available until Florida adopted rules that allowed for DNA testing. Because DNA testing has advanced now to the point that it can detect with remarkable accuracy even a few skin cells left on a victim´s clothing. DNA testing of the evidence in my case can conclusively identify the person responsible for the death of Aleisha Bryant, and prove beyond doubt that I am innocent.
But incredibly, the Florida Supreme Court denied all requested DNA testing upon the outrageously FALSE finding that DNA testing had already been conducted. That simply is not true! See, Lambrix v State, 217 So.3d. 977 (Fla. 2017). Further, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that because preliminary chemical testing conducted in 1983 found no blood on the clothing, no DNA could exist. Again, this simply is not true! The presence or absence of blood does not have any bearing on the existence of DNA – especially when the request for DNA testing was for skin cells (not blood) on the clothing.
The above is only part of the collective wealth of readily available evidence that would substantiate my consistently plea claim of innocence. I again respectfully implore the reader to read the “Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus” filed in the Florida Supreme Court on August 28, 2017, docketed as Lambrix v Jones case No. SC17-1608. This comprehensive ‘habeas” sets forth in detail how the evidence substantiates my claim of innocence.
I realize that “eleventh hour” claims of innocence by condemned prisoners facing imminent execution are met with skepticism. But as the evidence shows, I have consistently maintained my innocence since the day I was arrested – and the courts simply will not allow the evidence, including DNA testing of the evidence, to be heard.
I must accept that I will soon be executed for a crime I did not commit. But I am not going to just lay down and die. I will maintain this hunger strike until the State of Florida murders me or the scheduled execution is called off and the courts allow the evidence to be heard.
All I ask for is the fair and meaningful opportunity to prove my innocence. If we as a society are truly committed to demanding nothing less than the “moral certainty of guilt” before we carry out a state-sanctioned execution, then any evidence relevant to possible innocence should be heard before a state is allowed to take a life.
You can read more about my case, including numerous appeals filed through the years arguing my innocence at www.southerninjustice.net.
Many other groups have put up webpages that include actual media interviews of me and summarize the evidence supporting my innocence. You can look at those at the following websites:
I respectfully ask for your help. You can join an Amnesty International campaign to stop my execution through the websites above. You can also forward this to any and all media outlets, asking that they look into my case before I am executed for a crime I did not commit.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: “Evil can only hope to triumph when good men choose to do nothing”. Deliberately putting an innocent man to death is an act of evil. Please help me by advocating my cause before it´s too late.
|Michael Lambrix was executed|
by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017