Thursday, January 28, 2016

Death by Default

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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

For more information on Mike's case visit:

By Michael Lambrix

On Tueday January 12, 2016, the United States Supreme Court rendered an 8 to 1 decision finding that the Florida death penalty process is unconstitutional. But, that hasn’t stopped  the state of Florida from continuing to pursue my previously scheduled execution on February 11, 2016. Even when the the legal process employed to condemn me and 390 others in Florida is found to be unconstitutional , comtemporary judicially created rules will still trump constitutional law and allow Florida to proceed to put us to death...this principle is commonly known as “Death by Default.”

The average person would find it incomprehensible that even though a particular law itself is declared illegal a state can still proceed to put people to death under that same law that is found unconstitutional. Quite simply, the “politics of death” trump the basic concepts of fundamental fairness and even justice itself.

Here’s what is at issue. In Florida, as with all southern states, the death penalty is politically popular. All any wannabe politician anywhere in the South who wants to win an election has to do is jump up on their soapbox and declare that they will push to expand the death penalty and expedite executions and the crowds will gather to support him or her. That’s just the way it is down here in the South and they’re not going to change their ways without a fight.

After the Supreme Court found the death penalty in America to be unconstitutionally “arbitrary and capricious” in Furman v Georgia (1972), Florida was the first state to quickly rewrite its death penalty laws and bring back capital punishment. Under the pretence of making this process “fair,” Florida elected to adopt a system in which a jury would merely hear evidence of why a defendant should, or should not, be sentenced to death and then the jury would make an “advisory” recommendation—but only the judge would make the final determination of which “aggravating” circumstances existed and what the sentence would be.

Almost immediately, this process of determining who would live, and who would die, was challenged upon arguments that rather than prevent arbitrary imposition of the death penalty, it actually promoted it. But the US Supreme Court upheld Florida’s process in Proffit v Florida (1976) and long before Texas gained international recognition as the Western World’s leading executioner, Florida infamously held the record for the most executions and in fact, was the first state to carry out an involuntary execution in America since the reinstatement of the death penalty when Florida put John Spenkelink to death in 1979.

As Florida continued its rabid pursuit of executions, substantial challenges to this death penalty process remained, but repeatedly—by the narrowest of 5 to 4 decisions, reflecting the simple majority of conservative pro death penalty justices controlling the Supreme Court, the Court allowed Florida to continue by finding that this process that reduced the juries’ role in deciding who would live and who would die merely “advisory” was constitutional. See Spaziano v Florida (1984) and Mildwin v Florida (1989).

This remained the rule of law until Ring v Arizona (2002) when, with the support of several pro death conservatives, the Supreme Court expanded its earlier noncapital decision in Apprendi v New Jersey (2000) to capital death penalty cases, by finding that the Arizona process employed to impose a death sentence unconstitutionally allowed a judge, and not the jury, to determine whether the facts necessary to allow a sentence of death.

What this comes down to is a basic principle of long-established constitutional law, which dictates that under our constitution each person is entitled to have facts determined by a jury and that it is a fundamental principle that any fact that qualifies a capital defendant for a sentence of death be found by a jury.

In light of this landmark decision in Ring v Arizona, the Florida death penalty process was called into question. But Florida wasn’t about to voluntarily surrender its death penalty that easily, and immediately embarked on a potently disingenuous plan to exempt itself from Ring v Arizona by signing death warrants on Amos King and Leroy Bottoson, both of whom had the statutory “aggravating circumstances” of “previously convicted of a violent felony” used to impose sentence of death.

Florida’s argument in King and Bottoson was that since the determination of a “previous conviction” was not dependent upon factual debate by the jury, but conclusively proven by objective fact, the requirement that the jury find the fact does not apply. The Florida Supreme Court quickly adopted this argument and ruled that Ring v Arizona has no application to Florida and expeditiously proceeded to put both Amos King and Leroy Bottoson to death.

The attorneys representing King and Bottoson pleaded with the US Supreme Court to stop the executions, arguing that the Florida Supreme Court clearly was wrong in concluding that Ring v Arizona did not apply, but the Supreme Court declined review. Since 2002, at least three of the seven Florida Supreme Court justices have repeatedly said that the narrow majority of the Florida Supreme Court was wrong, and in State v Steele, 921 SO.2d.538 (Fla.2005) the court even all but begged the Florida legislature to rewrite Florida’s death penalty statutes to conform to Ring v Arizona, admonishing the legislature that if they did not, Florida would be at risk of having its entire death penalty scheme declared unconstitutional.

But, the Florida legislature refused to address the issue—in fact, their only response was a renewed legislative effort to limit Death Row appeals and speed up executions, resulting in the adaptation of Florida’s “Timely Justice Act” in 2013, which statutorily required death warrants (and corresponding executions) to be signed at a faster pace. See “The List” (previously posted essay describing how this new Florida law was intended to push for hundreds of executions).

From the time the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Ring v Arizona (2002), Florida has refused to comply—basically telling the Supreme Court to go screw itself—and in each of the well over 100 new death sentences imposed in Florida since 2002, the condemned prisoner asked the Supreme Court to accept review of the question of whether Ring v Arizona applied to Florida. But the Supreme Court declined review and left the question unresolved.

During this same period of time, Florida proceeded to put at least 30 prisoners to death, each time the Supreme Court declining to stop the execution. In fact, current Florida Governor, Rick Scott—a “tea party” Republican and self-made billionaire who bought his way into political office, has put 23 men to death—far more than any other governor in Florida’s history (on February 11, 2016, I will become number 24), as he prepares to run for US Senate in 2018 ...death wins elections.

Finally, in 2013 the Supreme Court accepted review of the issue in the case of Timothy Hurst and by an 8 to 1 decision categorically concluded that Ring v Arizona did unquestionably apply to Florida. As a result, every death sentence imposed at least since 2002 (when Ring v Arizona issued) is called into question, and the approximately 30 prisoners executed since 2002 were put to death even though the manner in which they were sentenced to death was illegal.

But it gets better. Florida still refuses to accept that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hurst v Florida (January 12, 2016) requires review of previously imposed sentences of death and insists that since Hurst v Florida is technically not “new law” that would require retroactive application, since it was based upon Ring v Arizona (2002), they can and will proceed to put prisoners to death even though they were unquestionably illegally sentenced to death.

And here we have it—Death by Default. My own case will now become the test case for no other reason but the coincidence that I am the next Florida prisoner scheduled for execution. We already know that Florida Supreme Court will be venomously hostile to the argument that Hurst v Florida requires that my previously scheduled execution now be called off.

Under this “death by default” defense of law, they might be right. The fact is that I’ve been down this same path before. In 1992, the US Supreme Court ruled that the jury instructions used to guide a juror’s decision in recommending death on the statutory aggravators of “Heinous, Atrocious, and Cruel (“HAC”) and “Cold, Calculated, and Premeditated (“CCP”) were “unconstitutionally vague," and therefore, any sentences of death imposed under these “aggravators” was itself illegal.

Just as with this Hurst v Florida case, as coincidence would have it, my case was pending on Federal review at the time, and became the first capital case to challenge the unconstitutionality of the sentence of death under Espinosa v Florida. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals remanded my case to the Florida Supreme Court so that the state court could address application of Espinosa first, and the State of Florida aggressively argued that Espinosa could not apply since that decision was not issued until after my conviction became final.

By unanimous decision the Florida Supreme Court found that I was not entitled to relief from the unconstitutionally imposed sentences of death, because my lawyers did not raise this issue on my “direct appeal,” thus it was procedurally defaulted. Lambrix v Singletary 502d. (Fla.1994). My case was sent back to the Federal Appeals Court, which adopted the Florida Supreme Court decision in Lambrix v Singletary 72 G3d. (11th Cir.1996).

However, the United States Supreme Court then granted review of my case specifically to address whether the lower court’s refusal to adopt Espinosa v Florida to my case—and vacate the illegally imposed sentences of death was improper. The argument seemed simple enough—under Espinosa it was beyond debate that I was illegally sentenced to death, so could a “procedural default “now prevent application of that law to my case? Quite simply, could the State of Florida proceed to put me to death by depriving me of application of this rule of law for no other reason but that my previous lawyer failed to properly raise it on my direct appeal?

In a narrow 5 to 4 decision, Lambrix v Singletary, 520 US 518 (1997), the Supreme Court concluded that although there was no question that I was illegally sentenced to death, I was not entitled to relief because Espinosa v Florida was not decided until after my conviction became “final” on direct appeal.

To put this in plain English, the Supreme Court did not dispute that under Espinosa I was illegally sentenced to death. Rather, the conservative, pro-death penalty justices weaseled their way out of this by concluding that their own politically motivated and judicially created rules limiting retroactive application of new rulings superseded what the United States Constitution said.

Already, the State of Florida is arguing that this recent Hurst v Florida decision is “procedurally defaulted” for the very same reason the Supreme Court previously stated in Lambrix v Singletary (1997)—that I am not entitled to relief under a new rule of law that did not exist before my conviction became final.

The stakes are high. My case will now decide whether Hurst v Florida requires all 390 death sentenced prisoners in Florida to be resentenced. And this decision could very well reach well beyond February 11, 2016, and rules that Hurst requires relief, then the ripple effect could very well bring an end of the death penalty in America. Already most legal experts are predicting that the death penalty will inevitably be thrown out by the Supreme Court within the foreseeable future.

Only a few months ago, conservative pro-death penalty justice, Antonio Scalia, publicly complained that the death penalty was on its last leg. Even in Texas, the public has grown reluctant of imposing death. In all of 2015, only 3 men were sentenced to death in Texas, while 14 executions were carried out. Not surprisingly, Florida once again leads the country in the number of people sentenced to death in 2015...and every one of those death sentences will now be thrown out in light of Hurst v Florida, wasting millions of dollars of tax-payers money.

Although by a steadily decreasing number, most (narrow margin) Americans still support the death penalty. But I have got to believe that this support is the product of ignorance as most Americans, as a matter of who we are as a society, genuinely believe in the concept of fundamental fairness. Even when they embrace the antiquated biblical concept of an “eye for an eye,” it extends from that basic principle of “fairness”—you kill someone, you get killed.

But it’s based upon ignorance, as few actually know how our legal system really works. Worse yet, most don’t really care. We simply assume that those entrusted to administer justice are guided by ethical constraint and moral character—and yet those who actually do take the time to become familiar with how our legal system really works, know that this is anything but the truth.

As I have said too many times before, and yet at the risk of redundancy I will say it again, I would challenge anyone to come forth with any credible evidence that I actually committed the crime that I have been wrongly convicted of and condemned to death for.

I say this, as I also believe that most Americans possess fundamental basic principles of moral values that demand a “moral certainty of guilt” before they would be willing to deliberately put any person to death. When it comes down to it, the act of “murder” is defined as deliberately killing an innocent person. Although some might argue that executing a thousand guilty men is “justice,” few can dispute that executing even one innocent man is murder.

But make no mistake about this—on February 11, 2016, the State of Florida will put me to death for a crime that I did not commit. By the States own admission, the entire wholly circumstantial (i.e. no eyewitnesses, no physical, or forensic evidence, no confessions, etc.) rested exclusively upon the testimony of a single witness, Frances Smith—and she readily admits that she did not actually witness me commit any act of violence against anyone.

Rather, Frances Smith—a woman I briefly lived with—only came forward with her story, that I told her I committed this crime, after she was arrested on “unrelated felonies,” while in exclusive possession of the victim’s vehicle. She wanted immunity from prosecution and had to come up with a good story to earn her won freedom. But the jury were not allowed to hear indisputable evidence that Smith actually gave law enforcement at least three other stories before she came up with the one that awarded her immunity. Nor was the jury allowed to know that even after Smith came up with this story she testified to, she then failed (“showed signs of deception” in) a state-administered polygraph test.

What I’ve also always admonished anyone who would listen is this—don’t take my word for anything. Rather, look at the records, and allow the facts and evidence to speak for itself. All my appeals are readily available online for anyone to read at so anyone who might question what I’m saying, should go to that website and read the record for themselves.

Since my conviction in early 1984, a virtual wealth of evidence has been developed substantiating my consistently pled claim of innocence. In 1996, the only witness that supported Smith’s trial testimony came forward and testified that key witness, Frances Smith, and state investigator, Miles Daniels, the lead investigator in this case, had deliberately coerced her to provide this false testimony. It was then revealed that, by Smith’s own admission, during that time, Smith and Investigator Daniels were having a secret relationship “of a sexual nature.” They deliberately concealed this relationship from the defense and the jury.

Not long after that, both the state attorneys own lead investigator (Daniels) and former Asst State Attorney, Tony Pires, testified that Frances Smith lied at trial when she denied receiving a promise of immunity from prosecution. Then it was revealed that the trial prosecutor, Randall McGruthers, deliberately concealed physical evidence showing that the only forensic evidence discovered on the alleged “murder weapon” were hairs belonging to none other than key witness Frances Smith—at trial, the same prosecutor told the jury that nothing was found on this “tire iron,” deliberately lying to the jury.

As luck would have it, by the time all this evidence was brought up before the Federal Supreme Court, one of the former prosecutors, Peggy Quince, who pursued my execution for years, was politically appointed to the Florida Supreme Court and actually was the Chief Justice. Although Peggy Quince recused herself, the remaining six justices made it unequivocally clear that they did not appreciate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct brought against their colleague, Chief Justice Quince and denied all relief in an especially acrimonious ruling. Lambrix v State, 39 So 3d. 260 (Fla.2010), and subsequent Lambrix v State, 124 So. 3d. 390 (Fla. 2013). See also, (comprehensive civil action filed, naming Chief Justice Peggy Quince as defendant, for obstructing access to the court).

All of this wealth of new evidence was then presented to the Federal Court, specifically arguing that the collective weight of this evidence conclusively established my innocence (In re: Cary Michael Lambrix, Case No. 14-15617-P, Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals), which the court summarily denied—refusing to address the pled claim of innocence. See, In re Lambrix, 776 F.3d.789 (11th Cir, 2015). Legal counsel then sought justice in the United States Supreme Court, arguing that absent Supreme Court intervention, the State of Florida would proceed to put an innocent man to death. See In re: Cary Michael Lambrix, US Supreme Court case No. 15-6163.

But, on November 30, 2015 the US Supreme Court declined review—within hours, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a death warrant scheduling my execution for Thursday, February 11th, 2016.

Death by Default—that’s how our legal system really works. Most believe—I guess most need to believe—that the death penalty is reserved for only the worst of the worst. But really, is it? Or, is the actual truth closer to the reality that the death penalty is a political tool used by politically ambitious prosecutors and elected politicians to win election by flaming the passions of contemporary lynch mobs—and if that means executing the innocent, then so be it.

In the coming weeks, as the date of my scheduled execution draws closer, all attention will be on this Hurst v Florida as it applies to my own case. If we win then it will apply to all 390 Florida cases. If we lose, and the scheduled execution is carried out on February, 11, 2016, then it will establish precedence allowing Florida to continue to push for more executions.

You can personally watch the “oral arguments” in my case online “live” on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 9:00am (Eastern Central Time) at  (subsequently, they can be watched at anytime at this website, by pulling up the case under Cary Michael Lambrix v Florida State, Florida Supreme Court Case No. SC16-8).

If you watch these “oral arguments,” you will see that the State of Florida will focus their entire argument on the principle that the recent Hurst v Florida decision cannot apply to my case. They will concede that there is no question that under the Supreme Court’s recent January 12, 2016 decision in Hurst v Florida there is no question that I was illegally sentenced to death. But they will argue—and the pro-death penalty justices on the Florida Supreme Court will agree—that the grant of relief is procedurally barred because this decision came too late...Death by Default.

My case is not uncommon. This is how the death penalty in America really works. Who lives and who dies is not determined by the nature of the crime, but the arbitrary application of politically procedural defaults.

Michael Lambrix was executed
by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

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

For more information on Mike's case visit: 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Execution Day – Involuntary Witness to Murder

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

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

For more information on Mike's case visit: 

By Michael Lambrix

As if a scene straight out of The Twilight Zone, circumstances trapped me within the cold and calculated process that resulted in the murder by state sanctioned execution of Oscar Ray Bolin on January 7, 2016. In all the years I´ve been on Florida´s death row, I´ve never been in such close proximity to an execution as it unfolded around me, forcing me to become part of the very process that they intended to then subject me to in precisely five weeks’ time.

On November 30, 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed my death warrant and I was immediately transferred from the main death row unit at Union Correctional (less than a mile away) to the “death watch” housing area on the bottom floor of Q-Wing at Florida State Prison. I joined Oscar down there—his own death warrant had been signed about 5 weeks earlier and they intended to murder him on January 7. There are only three cells in the death watch area, and Oscar was in cell one, and I was place in cell three, with an empty cell separating us.

Through those five weeks, each day brought him closer—his wife of almost twenty years solidly by his side, uncompromised in her commitment to stand by him and prove that he was innocent. And those familiar with the case knew that recently developed evidence did establish a persuasive issue of innocence, too.

His final rounds of appeals focused specifically on evidence supporting his innocence and the hope that the courts would do the right thing. As the New Year weekend passed, the Federal District Court summarily denied review of his innocence claim upon the finding that the lower Federal Court didn´t have jurisdiction to hear his claim of innocence. But there was hope, as the District Court granted a “Certificate of Appealability” (“C.O.A.”) authorizing appellate review before the Eleventh Circuit, and soon after the Eleventh Circuit issued an order establishing a “briefing schedule” in March…it seemed all but certain that Oscar would be granted a stay of execution and his claim of innocence would be fully briefed and heard by the appellate court.

Monday, January 4 passed as he anxiously awaited word that a stay of execution would be granted, but there was only silence from the court. Each day his wife spent every minute she could and it is impossible to imagine the pain she felt—she too was unquestionably a victim caught up in this cold process that unfolded around her.

I sat in my solitary cell not more than ten feet away and found myself impressed with the strength Oscar exhibited, and the concern he held for his wife and what this process inflicted on her. Society wanted to label this man a cold-blooded killer, yet if only those only too willing to throw stones could see the desperate concern he had for his wife, they could see how wrong they are.

Now I struggle to find the words—and with a reluctance to even write about what I involuntarily witnessed. But if I don´t, then who will? And is it really fair that the record of what transpired would otherwise be the state´s own version, leaving no perspective from those that they kill?

I must emphasize that even as much as these events impacted me due to my close proximity to this process, it is not comparable to what they were forced to endure, and the loss those who loved Oscar Bolin suffered. My attempt to share what transpired from my own unique perspective is done in the hope that perhaps by bearing witness, others would see just how incomprehensibly inhuman this process is, and how truly cold-blooded this act of murder is…and to know it is carried out in all of our names.

And I apologize for rambling on—it is not easy for me to find the necessary words. I can only hope that I can convey the true impact of what unfolded and compel those that read this to ask themselves whether this truly is what we aspire our society to be? It´s easy to justify the death penalty by claiming that it is in the interest of justice to kill those convicted of killing another—to become a killer ourselves. 

But how many give a thought at all to just how much contemplation is put into this process employed to take that life? I am again reminded of what I once read, written by the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.”

Think about that. It´s easy to dismiss what I say by blindly insisting that a jury convicted Oscar Bolin of murder and that justice demands that society take his life. But really—who is actually investing more conscious thought into the act of taking a human life?

It is for this reason I´m determined to share my own unique perspective of what this process is, and how by these very actions it reduces society itself to that very level of becoming “the monster.” Perhaps in my attempt to share this, others can see just how wrong this is.

On the early morning of Monday, January 4, the day began with the death watch staff advising both me and Oscar of our scheduled visits and phone calls for that day, I had already asked my family and friends not to visit that week as I didn´t want my visits to interfere in any way with Oscar´s visits. All I had was a phone call from my son early that morning and a legal phone call with my lawyer later that day.

Oscar had a visit with his wife and both anxiously awaited any word from the Eleventh Circuit courts hoping that a full stay of execution would come and the court would allow full and fair review of his innocence claim. But the day passed without any word from the court. By that evening Bolin was down to 72 hours—and I know from personal experience how difficult that was, as I had come within hours of execution myself when I was on death watch years earlier—only I was granted a stay.

By Tuesday morning, January 5, Oscar was down to sixty hours, and the clock continued to tick away and yet still nothing from the courts on whether they would allow his claim of innocence to be heard. Oscar spent from late morning until mid-afternoon with his wife in the non-contact visiting area. Upon his return, his demeanor was more subdued and the stress and anxiety he felt became all but tangible. And as I sat silently a few feet away in my own solitary cell, I wondered whether any of those willing to take his life gave even so much as a moment of thought into what they were inflicting upon other human beings—and again, Oscar was not the only one forced to count down those final hours anxiously hoping that phone would ring with the news that the court would allow his claim of innocence to be heard…every second of every moment, every hour that passed inflicted incomprehensible pain upon his wife and those that cared for him.

That evening passed in an uncomfortable silence as the courts would have closed their doors for the night and no news would come until at least that next morning. That psychological trauma of uncertainty weighed heavily upon them.

I doubt Oscar slept much that Tuesday night—I know I didn´t. His T.V. remained on into the early morning hours. By that next morning (Wednesday) he was down to about thirty six hours until his still scheduled execution and still no word from the court. It would be a long day. They brought the breakfast trays as they did each morning, but neither of us had any interest in eating. Down here on death watch, our meals are kept under direct supervision of security staff to ensure nobody (other prisoners or staff) has any chance of tampering with the food or smuggling anything to the condemned prisoner.

This methodical countdown to the intended execution actually starts a full week before, when they remove all personal property from the condemned prisoner´s cell, placing him (or her) on “Phase II.” From the moment they place the condemned prisoner on Phase II (that final week) a guard is posted directly in front of the cell twenty four hours a day, his only job to observe the condemned prisoner to ensure he (or she) doesn´t attempt suicide or harm themselves—and a few have tried. Any activity is written in a forest green “Death Watch Log.” Throughout this time, not even for one second are you allowed to forget that they are counting down your last days—and last hours.

Oscar again had a visit with his wife as she stood faithfully by him spending every moment she could—even if those visits were restricted to a few hours of non-contact (through glass) visits.

By early afternoon Oscar returned to his death watch cell—still no word from the court. The hours dragged by as Oscar talked to the guard stationed in front of his cell, simply talking about anything at all.

Warden Palmer came down, accompanied by Deputy Secretary Dixon (the second highest Department of Corrections employee). They talked to Oscar for a while mostly just to check on how he was holding up. But the preparations had begun and that final twenty four hours was quickly approaching. After they talked to Oscar, they stepped that few feet further down to the front of my cell and spoke to me.

I must admit that I was impressed by their professionalism and their sincerity that bordered on genuine concern. Perhaps the most heard expression on death watch is an almost apologetic “we´re just doing our job” and the truth is that the current staff assigned to work the death watch area and interact with the condemned prisoners counting down their final hours do go to great lengths to treat us with a sense of dignity and respect seldom even seen in the prison system.

The significance of this cannot be understated. I´ve been down here on death watch before years ago and came within hours of being executed myself, and there´s always been a deliberate distance between the condemned and the staff—especially the higher ranking staff. But it´s different this time. In the five weeks that I´ve been down here almost daily high ranking staff have come down to the death watch housing area and made a point of talking to us in an informal manner, abandoning that implicit wall of separation between them and us.

And now none other than the Deputy Secretary himself personally came down to talk to us—I´ve never heard of this before. Shortly after they left, Oscar asked the sergeant for the barber clippers. He wanted to shave his own chest and legs, rather than have them do it the next day. It had to be done, as the lethal injection process requires the attachment of heart monitors and Oscar preferred to shave it himself—as most would.

Oscar received another legal phone call later that afternoon—now down to almost twenty four hours until his scheduled execution and still no decision by the Eleventh Circuit as to whether or not they´d allow review of his innocence claim. The lawyers would call if any news came, but it was assumed that the judges deciding his fate already called it a day and went home. No further phone call came that night. Again Oscar stayed up late, unable to sleep until sometime in the early morning hours and he was not alone, as sleep would be hard to come by.

We reached the day of execution. Typically, they change shifts at 6:00 a.m. working a full twelve hour shift. But on days of scheduled execution, they change shifts at 4:30 a.m., as with the execution scheduled at 6:00 p.m. they cannot do a shift change then, as the entire institution will go on lockdown during that time.

With that final twenty four hours now counting down, each minute was managed by strict “Execution Day” protocol, and the day started earlier than usual. As if an invisible cloud hung in the air, you could all but feel the weight of this day as it was that tangible, and undoubtedly more so on Oscar. But he was holding up remarkably well, maintaining his composure even though the strain was obvious in his voice. How does one go about the day that they know they are to die? Again, I´ve been there myself and I know how he felt and it cannot easily be put into words.

Oscar was diabetic and as with each morning, the nurse came to check his blood sugar level and administer insulin, if necessary. Now within that final twelve hours, nothing would be left to chance. Around 7:00 a.m., they let Oscar take a shower, and then after locking down the entire institution, they took him up front for a last visit with his wife. They would be allowed a two hour non-contact visit until 10:00 a.m., then an additional one hour contact visit—the last visit before the scheduled execution.

Shortly after 11:00 a.m. they escorted Oscar back to the Q-Wing death watch cell. A few minutes later “Brother Dale” Recenelli was allowed to come down and spend a few hours with Oscar as his designated spiritual advisor. Contrary to the Hollywood movies depicting the execution process, the prison chaplain is rarely, if ever, involved as each of us are allowed to have our own religious representative—and many choose “Brother Dale” as he is well-known and respected amongst the death row population.

Many years ago Brother Dale was a very successful lawyer, making more money than most can dream of. But then he experienced a life-changing event and spiritual transformation, as chronicled in his book “And I Walk on Death Row” (see, Brother Dale and his equally-devoted wife Susan gave up their wealth and privilege and devoted their lives to their faith and ministering to death row.

Even as these final hours continued to count down, I remained in that solitary cell only a few feet away and unable to escape the events as the continued to unfold around me. There are only three cells on death watch and I found it odd that they kept me down here as they proceeded with this final process—when I was on death watch in 1988, they moved me upstairs to another cell removed from the death watch area as they didn´t want any other prisoners in the death watch area as these final events unfolded.

Brother Dale left about 2:00 p.m. and the death watch lieutenant, a familiar presence on death watch, then made a point of talking to Oscar and they went over the protocol—shortly before 4:00 p.m. he would shower again and then be brought around to the west side of the wing where they had only one cell immediately adjacent to the door that led to the execution chamber. I listened as this process was explained, knowing only too well that in precisely five more weeks I would be given the same talk.

The warden and Asst. warden came down again and talked to Oscar. A few minutes later the Secretary (director) of the Florida Department of Corrections, Julio Jones, personally came to Oscar´s cell and sat in a chair and talked to him—I´ve never heard of that happening before. But her tone of voice and mannerisms reflected genuine empathy towards Oscar, and he thanked her for taking that time to talk to him.

As they now closed in on that final two hours before the scheduled execution, Oscar received another phone call from his lawyer—the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals still had not ruled on whether they would grant a stay of execution and allow a full review of his pled innocence claim. Oscar´s voice was obviously stressed. Per protocol, the nurse gave him 5 mg. valium to calm his nerves.

Just before 4:00 p.m., Oscar spoke to me, wanting to talk about a problem he and I had years ago—a problem that I alone was responsible for and of which I have often regretted. In the five weeks we had been on death watch together, it was not spoken of. But now, to my amazement, even dealing with all that he was dealing with, Oscar wanted me to know that he forgave me for what I did. And for a few minutes we talked. And then the warden and his staff removed Oscar from his cell and escorted him around to the west side of the wing, to the execution chamber holding cell, where he would remain until the court cleared the way for execution, or he received a stay of execution and was brought back to this side.

A single sergeant remained on this side, and for the first time since I was brought to death watch I was alone as the sergeant remained at the desk just outside the cell block area—and I didn´t want to be alone. As I do often, especially when stressed, I paced in my cell anxious to hear any word on what was going on and checking my watch almost every minute, and each minute dragged by so slowly it was almost as if time itself had stopped and I couldn´t begin to imagine what Oscar and his wife were going through.

At irregular intervals the sergeant would walk down to my cell to check on me and I asked whether there was any more news. The Eleventh Circuit had denied his appeal and the case quickly moved on to the U.S. Supreme Court. The designated time of scheduled execution—6:00 p.m.—came and went without any word from the Supreme Court.

Oscar would remain in that holding cell until the Supreme Court cleared the way for execution—but at least both he and his loved ones still had hope as the minutes continued to tick away.

Most don´t realize just how many people are involved in this execution process and everybody remained on hold not knowing whether the execution would proceed or not. Immediately adjacent to my cell was a solid steel door that led directly into a hallway stretching the entire width of the wing. Just inside this door was an area with a coffee pot and chairs, and I could hear a number of unknown people congregated only a few feet away from me on the other side of the door as they discussed the continued uncertainty.

A larger crowd of unknown participants congregated on the lower quarter-deck area between the west side of the wing where the death watch housing area was and the door that led into the east side where Oscar remained in the holding cell. I couldn´t make out what they were saying and wondered, especially when I periodically heard laughter. I suppose this long wait was stressful on them, too, and a moment of levity could be forgiven. And yet I found myself wondering what they could possibly find funny as they awaited that moment of time when they would each assume their assigned task and take the life of another human being.

One hour passed, and then another, and another yet. Then at almost 10:00 p.m. it suddenly got quiet—very quiet. All the voices that continuously hummed both behind that steel door and the quarter-deck area just suddenly went silent and without anyone around to tell me; I knew that they all moved to their positions in the execution chamber.

It remained utterly silent—so quiet that I could hear the coffee pot percolating at the sergeant´s desk on the other side of the gate and I held my watch as the minutes passed and I strained to hear any sound at all. But there was nothing and I knew they were now putting Oscar to death. I cannot explain it, but I just felt it—and I got on my knees and I prayed, and yet I couldn´t find any words and found myself kneeling at my bunk in silence for several minutes.

Then I heard what sounded like a door on the other side of that concrete wall that separated my cell from the execution chamber. Then I once again heard muffled voices on the other side of that steel door. It was over and it went quickly…Oscar was dead. A few minutes later I heard the sound of a number of people going up the stairs leading away from the execution chamber. Their job was done and in an orderly manner they were leaving.

For obvious reasons, I didn´t sleep that night. Only a few feet behind that wall of my cell, Oscar´s body now lay growing cold. There are no words that can describe how I felt, but that emptiness that consumed me and left me laying in my bunk in complete silence through the night.

Somewhere in the early morning hours I fell asleep, only to awaken just after 7:00 a.m. It was a new day. The death watch Lieutenant was already here and I was now the only one left on death watch. But just that quickly, I was instructed that I had to immediately pack my property as they had to move me to cell one—the cell that Oscar only recently vacated.

I didn´t want to move to that cell, but I didn´t have any choice. That was the same cell I previously occupied in late 1988 when I myself came within hours of my own execution (read, “The Day God Died”) and especially knowing that only a few hours again Oscar was in that cell still alive and holding on to hope, I just didn´t want to be moved to that cell. Every person who has been executed in the State of Florida in the past forty years was housed in that cell prior to their execution.

But it wasn´t a choice and I obediently packed my property and with the officer´s assistance, I was moved from cell three to cell one. And as I worked on putting all my property back where it belonged (storing it in the single steel footlocker bolted firmly to the floor), a long-awaited phone call from my close friend Jan Arriens came through.

While on death watch, we are allowed two personal phone calls each week, and since my warrant was signed five weeks earlier, I had anxiously awaited the opportunity to talk to Jan, but through the Christmas holiday he was visiting his family in Australia. Having only recently returned to his home in England, he arranged this phone call.

It was good to hear a friendly voice just at that time when I most especially needed a friend. But we only had a few minutes to talk and unlike those eternal moments of the night before, these minutes passed far too quickly. But just hearing the voice of a friend comforted me.

Shortly after that phone call, I then had a legal visit and was escorted to the front of the prison to meet with my lawyer´s investigator. We spent hours going over legal issues and then it was back to the death watch cell. Not long after I returned, I learned that the governor had already signed another death warrant. This machinery of death continued to roll along. By mid-afternoon a familiar face was brought down to join me…Mark Asay (who we call “Catfish”) had his death warrant signed that morning, with his execution scheduled for March 17, exactly 5 weeks after my own scheduled execution.

With the methodical precision of a mechanical machine, Florida has resumed executions with a vengeance, establishing a predictable pattern of signing a new death warrant even before the body of the last executed prisoner has grown cold.

Now I remain in the infamous “cell one,” next in line to be executed—and on February 11, 2016 at 6:00 p.m., the State of Florida plans to kill me. Until then, I will remain in a cell in which the last twenty three occupants, without exception, resided until their own execution. I do not like being in this solitary cell. 

Michael Lambrix was executed
by the State of Florida on October 5, 2017

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

For more information on Mike's case visit: 

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Slippery Slope to State Sanctioned Murder

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

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,

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

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

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 and a weekly journal of my death watch experience will be posted on my blog

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

Thursday, January 7, 2016


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By Samuel Hawkins

I wasn't sure what was wrong with Scotty. He wasn't his usual self. You’d have to know him to understand him, but he was a good guy. He was friends with my crime partner before I ever met him. But our friendships overlapped, separated only by the years that we were in prison together.

You see JohnBoy, my crimey, was at Monroe with Scotty back in 1998 until 2004. I did not get to Monroe until 2008. Scotty was still there. I ran into him in the unit dayroom where he was playing Scrabble. This caught my attention. 

I enjoy playing Scrabble, and consider my game to be above average. I am pretty confident when it comes to reading, writing and spelling. I have an ace in the hole. My mother is a retired school teacher. I learned to read and write at a young age, which puts me a step ahead of many of the individuals who play Scrabble in prison. I used to play a penny a point or ten cents a point. I almost always won, and my wins covered my losses. 

I asked Scotty if he wanted to play for money. He was cocky and liked to talk shit, as I would find out. Good at it too. He called me a 'youngster'. I was 36. I sat down, and we played a game. Casual, no wagers. He beat me by almost a hundred points. This was no easy feat. I recognized immediately how good he was. I made my own excuses in my mind, as we played again. The results were similar. I felt challenged. I did not like to lose. Losing only created my need to win, made it grow even more.

So we began playing Scrabble in the evenings. It was there in the dayroom that we began talking, discussing time and common acquaintances throughout the prison system. This is how I found out that Scotty knew my crimey. He told me that he used to beat JohnBoy the same way he was beating me. There was not much I could say. I hadn't won a game in over a week. I was scoring in the high 300's. But he was scoring over 400 almost every game. These Scrabble games were a feeling-out period for both of us, although I think we both had a pretty good idea that the other was okay. It takes a lot for acquaintances to become friendships in prison because everyone has trust issues.

I saw Scotty often because we lived on the same side, A&B units. So we shared the same dayroom, chow hall, yard and gym together. In passing we began to greet each other. More than just the nod acknowledging another brotha' in prison, with spoken words. Occasionally we would find each other in the chow line together and we would eat together.

As time went on I encountered Scotty playing basketball, or we would be out on the yard, sitting on the rock. The conversations that ensued brought me to realize that his was another situation where someone had come to Washington from somewhere else and never left. Scotty was from down South, by way of Chicago. I never found out what brought him out here. I just never asked. But he ended up with a life sentence somewhere around 1985. He was a convict, did his time. I never knew him to complain about it. He did his own time, minded his own business. 

As time went on we both allowed each other into our respective circles. I would borrow something from him from time to time, and make sure I returned it. When I was on my hustle, I might sell him a couple of sticks of weed. Eventually I moved from B-unit over to A-unit. I was on the same tier with Scotty, and we saw each other every day. I had to pass by his cell to leave the unit. Now what I have to make clear to you is that Scotty talks a lot of shit, and he does it real well. He can make you laugh, or make some square hot under the collar. But it is good natured and fun. That's just Scotty. I ain't too bad at talking shit myself. So we went back and forth. It was just a part of our friendship, and everyday life. It didn't matter if it was 7 am, or lock up at 8:30 at night.

After the guard was killed in the chapel, they started sending the lifers out of Monroe. The reason given was that the guy who’d killed the guard was a lifer. Scotty got caught up in the sweep and was soon transferred to another facility. The thing about prison is some of the friendships created there a can be very strong, so long as you are both at the same facility. Good friends, road dogs, whatever. But as is the case when you are transferred or a friend is transferred, new acquaintances become new friendships for everyone. That is not to say that the old friendships no longer exist. They are just on pause, until you see them again.

So when Scotty left, I found a new Scrabble partner. I talked shit to another friend, and occasionally I asked if anyone had heard anything about Scotty. Two people who once had considered each other a friend who, while not close, were close enough to have common concern for the other. We were still brothas in the joint together, faced with many of the same thoughts, and longings. Men with pride, and mothers, families, and fears.

Then I was shipped out. I was not a lifer and I didn't leave for almost two years after Scotty. But I took the same trip he had. Through the reception center, a transfer point between facilities, I found myself at Stafford Creek, in Aberdeen, Washington. And, of course, Scotty was there. We were in separate units, so I didn't get a chance to play any Scrabble with him, but that didn't mean I didn't see him, and that didn't mean he didn't talk the most shit about whuppin my ass on the Scrabble table. We hadn’t kept track of the games, wins and losses. But Scotty would tell you that he had about a hundred to five win-loss ratio against me. I liked to think it was somewhere around a hundred to fifteen. Depending on whom you believe, well, you know, either way, it was cause to talk shit. 

I had been at Stafford Creek for about seven months when I got jammed up and went to the hole. I did my 30 days and got out. But I lost my long term minimum, and they sent me to medium. Right there with Scotty. By then, Scotty had a long-standing, continuous rivalry with an old brotha that everyone called 'Old School'. They played Scrabble for two to three hours every day. On the weekends this might extend to four or five hours or more. I couldn't get a game in with Scotty or Old School. I watched from the sidelines and checked out new words I learned from watching them.

Despite not playing Scrabble, we still socialized, both of us working in the kitchen together and we still talked more than a little bit of shit. I had been in medium custody for about five or six months when I started to notice Scotty losing weight. He didn't spend as much time in the dayroom playing Scrabble, and he wasn't talking shit like he used too. 

Prison is a place where men have to deal with many things, not the least of which is loss. We come here and live our lives, and superimpose prison over the outside world, we do the best we can while the reality of this scene reminds us each day that we are not free and that we are just watching time pass us by. In all of this, we are still human and vulnerable to good days and bad. So if you see someone that you know and recognize that something is wrong, you may comment on it. But if they do not acknowledge it or they say everything is cool, that usually means they don't want to talk about it. Prison has moods. Men in prison also have moods. They can change as easily as the wind in a storm. So we just give each other a respectful space. Eventually things will go back to the way they were. It could be an hour, a day or a week, depending on the situation. Maybe a guard said something to him. A write up, infraction. Missed commissary. Someone didn't answer or accept a phone call. A death in the family. Divorce papers. You get the idea. It could be anything. 

Then I began to notice Scotty going to medical, and he wasn't coming to work every day. I didn't want to intrude on his mood, but I was concerned about him. So I asked his cellie, a guy that I knew pretty well. He didn't know exactly what was wrong with Scotty, but he said he was sick. He told me that Scotty couldn't be too far away from the toilet, because he needed to go to the bathroom a lot. His cellie was a young brotha, and it was kind of difficult for him to be in the cell with this situation. I found out that Scotty didn't want to ask him for help, nor tell him what was wrong, and was basically lying in bed all day.

I took it upon myself to talk to Old School, and asked him if he knew what was wrong with Scotty. Maybe he’d talked to him about his situation. He had. Old School told me that Scotty didn't know what was wrong. Medical wasn't doing anything for him, except postponing treatment or diagnosis. Standard level of medical services in prison. 

Occasionally I would catch Scotty in the dayroom at the microwave or getting ice. I would pull up on him and talk for a minute or two until he was done and heading back to the house. His clothes were hanging off of him by now and his face was haggard. It was disturbing to see him like this, wasting away before my eyes. I was scared for him. I thought that he must have cancer. I know that black men over forty are prone to have prostate or colon cancer. At a higher risk.

The next time I saw Scotty out of his cell I addressed the issue of what medical was doing for him. Essentially nothing, he told me. It disgusted me to learn this. I asked him if he had anybody on the street who would call the prison. He said he did. I told him to give me his information and I would try to have some people call Olympia (headquarters) on his behalf too. Then he told me he was eating but shitting everything out. Sometimes using the toilet between 20-25 times a day. And medical wouldn't do anything. He was still in the general population. His cellie told me that it was even worse than Scotty had was saying. He wasn't just shitting everything out, but he also had blood in his bowels. So the cell was becoming a mess. Sometimes he wouldn't make it to the toilet in time, and so the stank would attach itself to the cell. He would sometimes have to clean in the dark at night, and wouldn't get everything cleaned up. This was difficult for both Scotty and his cellie. Two brothas; one young, one old and both of them had their own pride. 

I told my partner that if it got too bad and he couldn't deal with it I would trade cells with him and move upstairs with Scotty. I felt that it was the least I could do. For both of them. I thought that it would help the situation. And I didn't have any problem with assisting an older brotha who was a good guy, trapped in this system for thirty years and fighting one more battle against the system. Literally, he was fighting for his life at this point. It was scary to see Scotty, looking the way he did. Even the unit officers were commenting on this. Asking us if he was okay. The simple humanity inside even the most hateful and spiteful people was awakened by the drastic, visible change in his health. Let alone the individuals who were humane and treated us civilly and came to work to do their job, and feed their families.

By now, Scotty was rarely seen outside of his cell, unless he was going to medical now. I would stop by and check on him each day, and Old School was cooking meals for him. This was very troubling to me. When I went to work in the kitchen, inmates and staff alike would inquire about Scotty. I did not hide my thoughts. After so long in prison I was bitter towards the system. I hated what it stood for. I felt like the system was created to ensure that we served our time for doing wrong in society. But they turned around and did wrong, and no one was there to hold them accountable. Anyone that looked at Scotty could see he needed medical care. They provided him with 'baby wipes', and 'red bags' to put his soiled clothes in, and dispose of as 'blood & body' waste. But when I would stop by to talk to him, he said that they didn't have a prognosis, but he was scheduled to go to the outside doctor. But...he didn't know when. I knew that if Scotty was on the street, he would have been admitted to the hospital. 

The days passed. My anger grew. But what could I do? Sometimes when I talked to Scotty I felt like he had given up. I didn't see the spark, there was no fire there. Was I watching this brotha die? I felt sad. I spoke to the Sergeant, who was also a black man. He had to understand the severity of this situation. He called medical and argued with them. They did not want to accept Scotty. When he was through talking to them, he came out and went upstairs to Scotty's cell. He talked to him, one brotha to another, and told him that he had to declare a 'medical emergency'. Scotty did not want to do this. He wanted to remain uncomfortable in the comfort of his own cell, with his own belongings, as close to home as he had ever been in thirty years. Our cell is our home, and we fill them with our own creature comforts. I completely understood this. 

Eventually Scotty was convinced to declare a 'medical emergency'. When he did the medical staff came over with a wheelchair to transport him to medical. Scotty, the man that he was, looking like he was a breath away from death, accumulated the strength, courage and determination to stand up and walk out of the unit. Not wanting to display any weakness. This was a prideful man.

After he was gone, people talked about how fucked up it was that 'they', meaning 'the man', the system and these 'white folks' did Scotty like that. But after a few days Scotty was gone, and to most people, forgotten. I sought updates from the orderlies who worked in medical. We got some updates, and sent messages up to him. Scotty went out for surgery, but still was going to need another one. We got the word that at least it wasn't cancer. I wanted to get up there to see Scotty. But there really was no way. I thought about this, and asked some guards if they could get me up there. None of them could. I asked around the joint. There was one guy that could make it happen. He was a Sergeant in another unit. 

A couple of people had heard about a project I was working on. Actually it was a proposal. I talked to my cellie, who was going to be my editor. The plan was to come up with a program called 'Men of Compassion'. Prisoners would be able to visit other prisoners who were housed in medical. Think about it. If you are in prison already, you are in a lonely place. Now imagine that you are so sick, possibly even terminally ill, and you can't even have visitors from general population. Someone to talk to, maybe play cards, dominoes or chess with. To have to sit there each day, not knowing if you are living or dying is bad enough. Doing it alone is even worse. You feel completely abandoned. You see, medical in prison is not like on the street. The staff in prison are doing their job. Not that they are all bad people. But they cannot extend the same amount of care as a nurse on the street, because there can be no 'fraternization'. Even the appearance of it can lead to 'termination'.

I drafted the proposal and sent it to a lady who’d also had heard of what I was doing and was impressed. She took it up the chain of command. During this time I made a stealthy visit up to see Scotty, escorted by the Sergeant. When I walked through the door of his room/cell, I saw him, and I smiled. He wasn't back to normal, but he looked so much better than when I had last seen him walking out of the unit. It felt good to see him smile. I gave him a hug, and we started talking. Tears came to Scotty's eyes as he expressed some of his feelings to me. He told me that he never knew I had the side he’d seen over the past few months of his struggle. I asked him what he meant. He told me that he had always seen the young gang member side of me. The tough guy, convict, hustler. I knew he was talking about the exterior personality I present not only to others, but even to myself. I understood. I told him just because that is all you see, that is not all there is. I saw the tears in his eyes, and mine became watery too. This was a moment shared by two men in prison, who realized that despite the outward appearances, we were still human after so many years.

That day Scotty knew he was cared for. He admitted to nearly giving up. But that inner strength, the determination that makes you wake up each day even with a life sentence let him choose not to let that life sentence run out so soon. The sergeant looked in the cell and told us we had to wrap it up. We talked for a couple more minutes, then I left. We both felt better that night.

I was bombarded by people who knew I went to see Scotty. All of the concern was resurrected. It was genuine, but many people in prison just live day to day, and after a few days, they forget all about yesterday. So many days are the same, one after the next. I just couldn't let yesterday be forgotten.

Eventually Scotty made it back to the unit. They’d kept his old cell and he moved back in by himself. He had gained most of his weight back, and all of his shit talking and humor. I knew that when he told me they had him wearing a diaper up there in medical.

Samuel Hawkins 706212
Washington State Penitentiary
1313 N. 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362 

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