In August 2014 Florida governor Rick Scott assigned "clemency counsel" to represent Lambrix in a final clemency petition before a death warrant is signed scheduling his execution. A clemency submission was filed on 5 December.

PlEASE SIGN THE PETITION to grant a full clemency review for Michael Lambrix

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Alcatraz of the South Part 7 (Redemption in the Mirror)

By Michael Lambrix
Written by Michael Lambrix for the Minutes Before Six website
To read Part 6, click here
Whether it was the almost guttural rumbling of the diesel generator or that unmistakable sulfuric smell of the exhaust, or the combination of both as I struggled to sleep through it on that chilly late fall morning, I don’t know. But there I was at the edge of that abyss between sleep and consciousness and caught in that moment between time and eternity. I found myself tangled in the perception of the past, and what once was new became a prophetic omen of what my life would be, and in that moment I discovered that redemption is a mirror we all look upon.
Each Wednesday, for as long as I can remember, the same perverse ritual played itself out as a reminder to all of us here that we are caught in a perpetual state of limbo between life and death.  Each day that passes brings us one step closer to that judicially imposed fate. We are condemned to death and if we ever did dare to forget that, the generator served as a not-so-subtle reminder.
Now it seems like a lifetime ago since I was first housed on that north side of what was then known as “R-Wing” (since then re-lettered as G-Wing for reasons I suppose most of us will never know). But merely changing the identifying letter that hangs above that solid steel door opening on to what was then one of four wings at Florida State Prison that housed us condemned to die in the years before they built the “new” unit of Union Correctional won’t change what lies beyond.  Upon entering, one steps into a hell that only the malignant mind of men could ever manifest into reality.
It was late in the summer and I was coming off disciplinary confinement when I was moved over to an empty cell on R-Wing, placed about half way down the tier on the second floor. I was told by the guys around me that it was a quiet floor and a number of the guys made it clear they wanted it to stay that way. I had no problem with that, as the floor I was on had gotten wide open with radios and TVs blasting both night and day and more than a number of the guys yelling to each other so they could be heard above the noise and it never seemed to stop. Now, a little quiet would be welcome.
I moved to the floor on a Friday morning and it took the better part of that weekend to put my property up and arrange my new cell. Only recently were we given large steel footlockers to store all our personal property in. Prior to that, we pretty much just piled the numerous cardboard boxes containing what we called our own in any manner we liked and they left us alone. But the administration claimed the fire marshal warned the boxes were a hazard and had to go.
It was just as well, as the boxes were magnets to the infinite number of both cockroaches and rodents that infested the death row wings. At least with steel locker, it was a little harder for them to get in and out, although it didn’t take too long before they found their ways.
By early that following week I was getting to know the guys I now lived amongst. Funny how that is, every wing on the floor you are housed on seemed to have its own different set of personalities. This particular floor was known to many as the celebrity floor, as it housed a few of the more notorious death row prisoners, such as my new neighbor, Ted Bundy.
While most of those on this particular floor were there by choice, each patiently waiting for a cell to open then requesting to be placed in it as they wanted to be housed on a quiet floor, both me and Ted had no choice. I was placed there for no reason but luck of the draw—when my time in lock-up (disciplinary confinement) was up, it was the only cell open and for Ted, they just liked to keep him on the second floor near the officers’ quarter deck so that when the occasional “four group” of politicians or judges would come through, they could be paraded down the outer catwalk and get their peek at “Bundy.” Most of the time we would know when a tour group was coming and when we heard that outer catwalk door open, we would quickly throw on our headphones and pretend to watch TV as none of us cared to be their entertainment.
At first I didn’t know what to make of it when I realized that I was suddenly housed next door to Ted. In the few years that I had been on death row, I was previously always housed on what was then known as “S-wing,” which was one wing up toward the front of where I now was, but in many ways a whole other world away.
Like everyone else, I had heard of him. And for a good reason he didn’t exactly go out of his way to reach out to those he didn’t know, as too many even in our own little world liked to throw their stones…even those cast down together into this cesspool of the system. I was already aware of how doing time was about being part of a micro-community of various clichés, each of us becoming part of our own little group.
But it didn’t take too long before I found myself standing up at the front of my new cell talking to Ted around that concrete wall that separated us. As coincidence would have it, we shared a lot of common ground, especially when I mentioned that I was born and raised out on the west coast and that Northern California would always be the only place I would truly call “home.”
As the conversation carried on, he had asked if my family still lived out there, but they didn’t, at least not any relatives that mattered. After my parents divorced, when I was still too young to remember, my father gained sole custody of me and my six siblings and then remarried and we gained three more. It was anything but an amicable divorce, and we never were allowed to get to know our mother.
But as I explained the family dynamics, I pulled out a picture of me with my mother and stepfather taken when I finally did get to know them when I was 22. I guess the snow outside the window gave it away, but Ted quickly noticed that detail and commented that he had never seen the snow like that around San Francisco and I then explained that my mom didn’t live in California, as she had moved to Utah and I spent the winter of ’81-’82 with them outside of Salt Lake City.
That caught his attention and after that I couldn’t have shut him up if I had wanted to. For the rest of the evening and into the night he talked about his own time outside of Salt Lake City and as we talked we realized my mom lived only a few blocks from where his mom lived… small world. As two people will do, when reminiscing about common ground, we went on and on about various places we both knew, although neither of us spent more than a few months there. But it brought us together.
In the following months we grew closer through our common interest in the law. At the time I was barely just beginning to learn (Although at that ripe age of 27 I would have sworn I already knew it all). Now twice as old, I look back and realize I didn’t know half as much as I thought I knew and through Ted’s patience I learned what it took to stay alive.
Most of those around here who consider themselves jailhouse lawyers know only what little they might have read in a few law books and then think they know it all. But as I would quickly come to know, only because my new mentor had the patience to teach me, to truly understand the law you must look beyond what the law says and learn how to creatively apply the concepts. And that’s what makes all the difference.
During the time I was next to Ted I was preparing to have my first “clemency” hearing. It’s one of those things we all go through and back then they would schedule us for clemency review after our initial “direct” appeal of the conviction and sentence of death were completed. Only then, by legal definition, does the capital conviction and sentence of death become “final,” if only by word alone.
But nobody actually would get clemency and we all know it was nothing more than a bad joke, a complete pretense. I was still inexcusably naïve, but Ted’s tutorage enlightened me and I dare say that if not for that coincidence of being his neighbor at that particular time in my so-called life, I would have been dead many years ago.
Back at that time, Florida had only recently established a state-funded agency with the statutory responsibility of representing those sentenced to death. But like most else in our “justice” system the creation of this agency was really nothing more than a political pretense never actually intended to accommodate our ability to meaningfully challenge our conviction, but instead existed only to facilitate the greater purpose of expediting executions.
A few years earlier as then Florida Governor “Bloody Bob” Graham aggressively began to push for executions, at the time heading the country in the number put to death, the biggest obstacle was the complete absence of any organized legal agency willing to represent those who faced imminent execution. Repeatedly, lawyers would be assigned only at that last moment and then the courts would be forced to grant a stay of execution until the newly assigned lawyers could familiarize themselves with the case.
In 1985, Governor Graham and then Florida Attorney General Jim Smith joined forces to push through legislative action to create a state agency exclusively responsible for the representation of all death-sentenced prisoners. They believed by doing so, it would speed up executions, as lawyers would no longer be assigned at the last minute. But many others argued that by creating this agency the state would stack the deck by providing only lawyers connected to the state’s own interests.
A compromise was reached in which a former ACLU lawyer known for his advocacy on behalf of death row was hired as the new agency’s first director, and soon after Larry Spalding then hand-picked his own staff. This small group of dedicated advocates quickly succeeded in all but stopping any further executions in Florida and the politicians did not like that, not at all.
For those of us on the Row, it gave us hope. We knew only too well that the insidious politics of death manipulated the process from the very day we were arrested to that final day when we would face execution. Anybody who thinks our judicial system is “fair” has never looked into how the law really works. And with the agency exclusively responsible for representing all those sentenced to death now at the mercy of politically motivated legislative funding, it didn’t take long before the conservative, pro-death politicians in Florida realized that by simply denying the agency adequate funding they would render the work meaningless while still technically complying with the judicial mandate of, at least by statutory definition, providing the necessary legal representation to carry out more executions.
At the time, I had already waited over a year for a lawyer to be assigned to my case, but because of the inadequate funding of the agency, none were available. For the entire Death Row population quickly approached 300, the Florida legislature provided only enough money to hire 3 staff lawyers. It was an impossible job, but they remain committed.
Fortunately, with Ted as my neighbor, I received assistance not available to others, and through his guidance I was able to file the necessary motions requesting assignment of what is known as initial-review collateral counsel. Although none were available, it still built up the record and although like many others who were forced to pursue their initial post-conviction review through such a deliberately corrupted process, at least I was able to get my attempts to have collateral counsel assigned to my case into the permanent record, and although as intended, I was deprived of my meaningful opportunity to pursue this crucial collateral review, thanks to Ted’s assistance, that foundation was laid long ago.
It only took our Supreme Court another 25 years to finally recognize the same constitutional concept that Ted walked me through so long ago—that fundamental fairness and “due process” required the states to provide competent and “effective” assistance of initial-review collateral counsel and if actions attributable to the states deprived a prisoner of that meaningful opportunity to pursue the necessary post-conviction review, then an equitable remedy must be made available. See Martinez v Ryan, 132 Sect. 1309 (2012).
I would say that Ted is probably rolling over in his grave and smiling at all this, but I know he was never buried. It was his choice to be cremated and have his ashes spread in the Cascade Mountains, where he called home.
Perhaps this is one of the lessons I had to learn in those early years when I first came to Death Row. I shared many preconceived opinions that most in our society would. Because of what I heard of Ted Bundy, I had expectations that soon proved to be an illusion. Often over the years I have struggled with the judgments we make of others around us, only too quickly forgetting that while we go through our lives throwing stones, we become blissfully oblivious to the stones being thrown at us.
Maybe we will want to call him a monster, and few would deny the evil that existed within him. But when I look to those who gather outside on the day of yet another state-sanctioned execution, I now see that same evil on the face of those who all but foam at their mouth while screaming for the death of one of us here. That doesn’t make these people evil, per se, but merely reminds me of a truth I came to know only by being condemned to death: that both good and evil do simultaneously co-exist within each of us and only by making that conscious effort every day to rise above it, can each of us truly hold any hope of not succumbing to it and becoming that monster ourselves.
Being condemned to death is often ultimately defined by the evolution of our spiritual consciousness. I know all too well that there will be many who will want to throw stones at me because I dared to find a redeeming quality in someone they see as a monster. And as those stones might fall upon me, I will wear those scars well, knowing that it is easy to see only the evil within another, but by becoming a stronger man I can still find the good. And despite being cast down into the bowels of a hell, that ability, and even more importantly, that willingness to find good in those around me has made me a better man.
It was around that same time that the hands of fate brought me into contact with another man I knew long before I came to Death Row. The thing about this micro-community we are cast down into is that it really is a very segregated world. Unless you get regular visits—which very few ever do—you’re never around any others but those housed on your particular floor.
Not long after I came to be housed on R-wing, I went out to the recreation yard and recognized a familiar face. I knew him as Tony (Anthony Bertolotti) and back in 1982 we did time together at Baker Correctional, a state prison up near the Georgia state line. I was the clerk for the vocational school program at Baker while Tony worked as a staff barber. Because both of us were assigned “administrative” jobs, we were both housed in the same dormitory, just a few cells apart. Although he wasn’t someone I hung out with back then that small measure of familiarity created a bond and we would talk for hours about those we once knew.
But Tony wasn’t doing so well. Like me, he had been sentenced to death in 1984 and in just those few years he had already given up hope. That was common, but few actually acted upon it. Tony was one of these few, and at the time he was beginning to push to force the governor to sing his death warrant, which he did subsequently succeed and became one of Florida’s first “voluntary” executions. His only perception of reality around him was cast within a dark cloud, so dark no sunshine could appear. And his own escape from that reality was to pursue that myth they call “finality” by bringing about his own death.
So, there I lay that early fall morning. If at that moment I were to get out of that bunk and stand at the front of my cell, I know that I could look straight outward a couple hundred feet in the distance and clearly see that grass-green building we know as the generator plant, which stood just on the other side of the rows of fencing crowned with even more rows of glistening razor wire. And then by looking off to my right of the wing, immediately adjacent to the one in which I was housed, I could see the windows on the first floor that I knew would be where the witnesses gathered when they carried out each execution.
Although I knew these sights well, as well as the sound and smell of that generator plant that they cranked up every Wednesday to test the electric chair (long after that electric chair was banished and replaced with lethal injection they continued to crank that generator up), instead I chose to lay there in my bunk with my eyes closed and manipulate those sounds and smell into a memory that didn’t drag me down and even bring about a smile.
There was another time in my life when I would be awoken to the sound and smell of a diesel generator, and it too was all about how I chose to perceive it. When I was 15 years old I left home and found the only kind of job a homeless teen could by working with a traveling carnival, mostly around the Chicago area.
Most people might find it unimaginable that a “child” of 15 would be out on his own, but if they knew what life was like at “home” then they might understand why I can look back at that time and find a measure of happiness I seldom experienced in my so-called life. Leaving home as a teenager was not so much a choice, but a means of survival. I wasn’t alone—all my siblings also dropped out of school and left “home” at their earliest opportunity and so at least for me, finding work with a traveling carnival was a blessing, as the alternative was to live on the streets.
In the spring of 1976, shortly before my 16th birthday, I left Florida with a carnival that had worked the local county fair, assured I would find work when they joined another show in the Chicago area. But it didn’t work out that way as it was still too cold for the carnivals to set up. For the first few weeks I had no work and no place to stay. I had no money for food and tried to find a meal at a Salvation Army kitchen only to be interrogated by the volunteers who insisted they had to send me “home.” I left without being fed and never again went to a shelter.
At that time in my life, while most my age were just starting High School, living on the streets and sleeping on layers of cardboard boxes was better than being forced to return home and once the weather warmed up and the carnival could set up, I found work at a game concession paying twenty dollars a day—and the boss allowed me to sleep at night in the tent.
Each morning when it was time to start opening the show, that generator would crank up and first that distinctive machinery rumbling would be heard followed only a moment later by that sulfuric smell of the diesel exhaust, and when I closed my eyes that same sound and smell still made me smile, is just like waking up to that job I found at 15, it brought me, at least mentally, to a safer place that anything I knew of as “home” and the freedom of being on my own.
Now when I hear (and smell) that generator just as I did the first time on that chilly early fall morning of 1985, I am reminded that whether it be man or machine, it’s all in how we choose to see it, as the evil within anyone or anything can only exist if one chooses to focus on that. But just as I learned from coming to actually know the person that was Ted Bundy, and finding that although evil acts can undoubtedly be attributed to him, he was not all evil, but also possessed that measure of a man within that had good, it is also true for the many years that would follow as if I’ve learned nothing else through this experience, it is that this evil that exists within the manifestation of the men (and women) around us exists on both sides of these bars and no matter what the source of evil might be, it can only touch and tarnish my own soul if I allow it to.
My lesson so long ago was that redemption (especially that of self) is a mirror that we look into and it’s the image that looks back upon us that ultimately defines who we are and more importantly, who we become. I consider myself blessed to have been around those that society has labeled as “monsters” as it has endowed upon me the strength to find something good within each. And I know that as long as I can find a redeemable quality in all others, there will still be the hope that others will find something redeemable within me. 
Michael Lambrix 482053
Union Correctional Institution
7819 NW 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Other Side of the Coin

Written by Michael Lambrix for the Minutes Before Six website

On April 28, 2015, the Supreme Court held “oral arguments” on an Oklahoma case that argues that the drug Midazolam Hydrochloride used in the lethal injection process fails to adequately render the intended victim unconscious, resulting in the executing inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering in violation of the Constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
A decision is expected to be rendered by the end of June. Until this issue is resolved, executions in numerous states (including Florida) have been put on hold. But the general consensus among legal experts is that the Supreme Court will find (by a predictably narrow margin of 5 to 4) that despite the overwhelming evidence of numerous prisoners seen to have remained conscious after this drug (Midazolam) was administered it fails to establish that measure of “deliberate indifference” necessary to prove an infliction of “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Undoubtedly guiding the Supreme Court’s anticipated decision in June will be the narrow 5 to 4 decision reached in Baze v Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008) in which the court rejected a similar argument challenging the use of sodium thiopental as the initial anesthetizing drug used in Kentucky’s executions.
It must be emphasized that there is no dispute that if the initial anesthetizing drug used in the “three drug cocktails” does not render the person unconscious, upon injection of the following two drugs the prisoner will suffer incomprehensible physical pain. But as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, it does not establish the sort of “objectively intolerable risk of harm” that qualifies as “cruel and unusual.”
When it comes down to it, what the Supreme Court has consistently said is that, as a matter of constitutional law, it is perfectly acceptable to inflict incomprehensible pain and torture upon the prisoner as long as it cannot be proven that those acting upon behalf of the state didn’t actually intend to inflict unnecessary pain.
Rather, physically torturing a person to death under the pretense of administering justice only arises to an unconstitutional infliction of cruel and unusual punishment if it can be proven (not merely alleged) that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to a “substantial…or objectively intolerable risk of harm.”
Historically, the Supreme Court has not recognized any form of “botched execution” to be in violation of this constitutional prohibition against inflicting “cruel and unusual punishment,” as in every instance in which the condemned prisoner suffered incomprehensible pain (i.e. “botched execution”), during the execution process, prison officials conveniently attributed this to an unforeseen accident…oops, sorry ‘bout that.
To be clear, in the case currently before the Supreme Court challenging the use of Midazolam as the initial anesthetizing drug there is no dispute that the condemned man clearly was conscious and continued to physically struggle as the subsequent two lethal drugs were administered. Whether or not he suffered incomprehensible pain for a prolonged period of time is not in dispute.
Instead, those challenging this particular lethal injection protocol bear the burden of convincing a majority of the Supreme Court – the same pro-death penalty conservatives who consistently remain openly hostile to any challenge of the death penalty – that prison officials should have known that this drug Midazolam was not going to render the prisoner unconscious.
Quite simply, the ends justify the means and in a nation determined to equate justice with vengeance at every level, as long as the majority of Americans remain indifferent to the means of inflicting death, our Courts simply will not take the action necessary to end this inhumane infliction of torturous death.
But I would like to introduce into this debate an argument that seems to be completely ignored…the psychological effect on the condemned prisoner as he (or she) is strapped to that gurney awaiting that uncertainty of a prolonged and torturous death, and more importantly, why as a presumably civilized society we should even care whether condemned prisoners experience physical pain when they are put to death.
I already know from experience that as soon as I (or anyone else) dares to say that we should empathize with the pain inflicted upon the condemned, they will see this as somehow negating the tragic suffering of the victim of the crime. But one is not mutually exclusive of the other and allowing the pain and suffering inflicted upon the victim to justify indifference to the pain and suffering we then choose to inflict upon the condemned only reduces all of us to the same measure of monster we so quickly condemn.
Before anyone can be sentenced to death, the court must first identify and find what is called “aggravating circumstances,” specific circumstances unique to each case that makes that particular case stand out as something more than the “typical” murder as (at least in theory) the death penalty can only be imposed upon the “worst of the worst.”
By Supreme Court mandate – to conform with that same constitutional prohibition against the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment – each state that seeks this ultimate penalty is obligated to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these special circumstances exist.
One of the most common “aggravators” used to impose death was that the victim’s death was the product of a depraved mind. In Florida, this is known as “heinous, atrocious, and cruel.” But regardless of each state’s particular terminology, the definition remains the same…that the victim’s death encompassed an intent not to merely kill, but to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering, often this is not defined by the infliction of physical pain, but instead upon the psychological fear of imminent death.
This is but one of the irreconcilable paradoxes that exists in the contemporary administration of the death penalty…if it can be shown that the victim suffered the psychological fear of imminent death or experienced physical pain “beyond that of typical death” then those circumstances warrant the imposition of death as a punishment.
But when the state imposes that some measure of imminent fear of death and even unnecessary physical pain resulting from a “botched execution,” then the courts will excuse this as an unintended consequence.
Imagine for a minute that you are the condemned prisoner. First you will spend many years in continuous solitary confinement as the appellate review drags out and the uncertainty of your fate weighs down upon you. The only people you remain close to through those years are the condemned men around you and as time passes they will be dragged off to their death – or, more often than not, they will simply rot away one day at a time until they die of “natural causes.” Just as many more will slowly detach from reality and slip into a world of their own making as a means of escaping reality.
But somehow you maintained the physical and mental strength to survive that prolonged process intended to break even the strongest men and only then will you be rewarded with that visit from the warden as they show up at your cell door and emotionlessly announce that your own execution has been scheduled and you will immediately be transferred to the “death watch” cell where you will suddenly find yourself completely isolated from all those who until that moment provided your support. And then that clock begins to tick away as you count down those last weeks, then days, then hours, until they plan to kill you.
You are utterly helpless as you are forced to confront your own mortality and with each tick of that clock you take yet another step towards that fate and not even a moment goes by that you will be allowed to forget that they intend to kill you.
But that undeniable imminent fear of death is only part of the psychological process they will impose upon you, as the entire process is designed to methodically break the condemned prisoner down; to reduce him (or her) to something less than human, as by breaking us down to that point in which we are no longer seen as human, then it makes it so much easier to put us to death.
What few ever take even a moment to consider is that those of us who are condemned actually live among, even in close proximity to, those who are then put to death. We are each only too aware of the “botched executions” and it takes on a personal dimension to each of us.
In my own personal experience I have known a number of those who were subjected to “botched executions.” As I write this, it has been a quarter of a century since the May 4, 1990 execution of Jesse Toffero at Florida Supreme Court. From the time I came to death row in March 1984, I came to know him well, and his mother who visited him regularly. Jesse was her only child and losing him was itself traumatic, but her knowing what he went through in those final moments elevated the trauma far beyond that few could even comprehend.
At the time the then Florida governor Robert “Bloody Bob” Martinez adopted a policy and practice of aggressively signing “death warrants” in an attempt to expedite executions, it was not uncommon for Governor Martinez to sign at least two death warrants a week and to keep up to twelve men (and women) under imminent threat of execution.
In September 1988 Gov. Martinez signed my death warrant along with two others (Robert Teffeteller and Amos King). We were all scheduled to be executed on November 30, 1988, but both King and Teffeteller received stays of execution, leaving only me to go down to the wire (please read my death watch account “The Day God Died”). But I, too, finally received a last minute stay of execution and was returned to the regular death row housing area.
Upon my return to the regular wing, Jesse was one of the first to welcome me back and send me a few celebratory snacks. Back then the death-row community was much closer than it is not – as our numbers grew and the years passed, we’ve become divided amongst ourselves.
A little over a year later Governor Martinez signed another death warrant on Jesse and there was not room on Q-wing, so the warden converted the first five cells on 2-north, R-wing to an improvised “death watch.” As coincidence would have it, it was housed on that floor at that time. Jesse’s death warrant had him scheduled for execution in about 4 weeks and he remained on 2-north for the first few weeks, and we talked every day.
Towards that last week of April they moved Jesse to the formal death watch cell on the bottom floor of Q-wing, only a few feet away from the execution chamber. But Jesse was confident that he would quickly win a stay of execution as substantial new evidence was discovered that supported his innocence and would subsequently lead to his co-defendant’s (Sonya Jacobs) exoneration and release from death row.
But his claim of innocence fell on deaf ears and his final round of appeals was denied. In the early morning hours of Friday, May 4, 1990, the state of Florida proceeded to carry out the execution of Jesse Taffero in what by all accounts seemed to be just another “routine” execution.
Without exception, all those who gathered to witness Taffero’s execution uniformly agreed that it was anything but routine. As they sat in silence only a few feet away, separated only by a glass window, they watched in horror as the masked executioner pulled the switch to begin that first fatal cycle of electricity – only to have the electric chair malfunction and as that surge of electricity connected, Jesse quite literally burst into flames before them, and they could see that Jesse was still alive and physically struggling against the leather restraints.
As the flames could be visibly seen, smoke and the putrid smell of burning flesh filled the room. The executioner didn’t know what to do, so he hit the switch again, but it only caused even more flames, and again they could still see Jesse struggling despite the two failed attempts to execute him. Nobody really knew what to do – they never trained for failure. But after too many minutes passed, they again hit the switch for a third time and only then did Jesse die, slowly tortured to death in a scene straight out of the worst nightmare one could imagine.
Later an investigation would conclude that those responsible for carrying out the execution failed to properly saturate the sponge in the saline solution used to ensure conductivity, resulting in what laymen would say was a “short” in the connection, causing that artificial sponge to catch fire.
But it would take two more similar “botched executions” in Florida’s electric chair (Pedro Median and Allen Davis) before Florida only reluctantly surrendered its three-legged monstrosity and switched to lethal injection in early 2000.
However, even though they would argue that lethal injection was more humane, it too has repeatedly proven to be less than what they would want us to believe. Shortly after Florida adopted lethal injection they went to put Bennie Demps to death, but couldn’t find a vein in which to insert the needle. At the last minute a member of the execution team – presumably not a doctor as the American Medical Association prohibits licensed physicians from participating in the execution process – found some sort of scalpel and sliced Demps inner thigh open, causing substantial blood loss, to access a vein in his leg and then the needle was inserted. All the while Bennie Demps remained fully conscious and strapped tightly to the gurney.
A few years later when Florida proceeded to carry out the execution by lethal injection on Angel Nieves Diaz on December 13, 2006, the person responsible for inserting the needles into each of Angel´s arms ignored obvious signs any trained medical personnel would have immediately recognized that both needles had actually pierced through his veins and onto the soft tissue beyond.
Once again a room full of witnesses watched in horror as a man was quite literally tortured to death a few feet in front of them. For what was determined to be a full 34 minutes, and not until two separate doses of lethal drugs were pumped into his veins, Angel Diaz physically struggled in obvious pain. Later, an autopsy would find chemical burns on both his arms, and a conclusion that he undoubtedly suffered “excruciating pain” (see article, “Expert: Key Signs Ignored in Botched Execution of Miami Killer” by Phil Davis, Orlando Sentinel, February 5, 2007). 
Despite indisputable evidence that botched executions are only too common, repeatedly a narrowly divided Supreme Court has consistently rejected the notion that inflicting incomprehensible physical pain during this state-sanctioned ritual of death constitutes the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The problem is that proponents of the death penalty have successfully manipulated the focus of this inquiry exclusively on the relatively temporal infliction of physical pain at that moment of the botched execution, ignoring entirely the irrefutable psychological torment the intended victim of such executions endures.
Our legal system has long recognized that the infliction of emotional duress is a form of injury subject to judicial redress. If a person slips and falls at the local grocery store, or is hit by a truck causing considerable physical injury, that person is legally entitled to seek compensation for the psychological duress inflicted, often to an even greater extent than the physical injury itself.
Equally so, the infliction of psychological trauma upon the victim of a violent crime – especially the torture one endures as the result of being aware of their imminent death – is often the decisive factor in determining whether the perpetrator of that crime is constitutionally eligible for a sentence of death.
So, why is it that when confronted with this virtual epidemic of “botched executions” the entire focus is exclusively on that infliction of physical pain and our courts conveniently ignore altogether the more obvious infliction of psychological trauma imposed upon the condemned?
To me, it’s not so much about whether the condemned person actually suffered physically when that execution is carried out, but instead whether that condemned prisoner suffered the psychological trauma of knowing that once they did proceed with their practiced ritual, one he (or she) remained helplessly strapped in that gurney and waited for the executioner to begin that fatal process, would they yet again screw up? Instead of simply being put to death, would they “unintentionally” botch that execution and that condemned prisoner then be subjected to what nobody denies will be a prolonged and torturous death?
I do realize that some would argue that those we condemn to death deserve nothing more than that infliction of physical pain, and that the more they suffer, the better. Fortunately, those who are consumed by their own malicious need to inflict a torturous death upon another human being are few and do not represent the broader consensus.
When it comes down to it, this simple truth remains…whether it is an individual, or as a collective society, we are ultimately defined not by what we say, but what we do. It is our actions, not our words, which paint the true picture of who we are.
If by our actions we so deliberately mimic the actions that we recognize define “the worst of the worst,” then how can we hope to become something better than the worst if all we strive to be is nothing more than the worst?
Even the most staunch proponents of the death penalty (Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Scalia) recognize that through the years since this nation came to be, as a society we have grown intolerant of the imposition of punishments that were once considered humane and judicially necessary, practices that today would unquestionably “shock the conscience” of a civilized society and in our more enlightened and evolved social conscience be seen as a constitutionally intolerable infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.
In Baze v Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 94-95 (2008) Justices Thomas and Scalia concurred in the decision that a botched execution is not itself sufficient to constitute the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment absent evidence of a subjective intent to inflict physical pain by providing an informative summary of the evolution of capital punishment in America.
The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on the “infliction of cruel and unusual punishments” must be understood in light of the historical practices that led the framers (of the Constitution) to include it in the Bill of Rights.
That the Constitution permits capital punishment in principle does not, of course, mean that all methods of execution are constitutional. In English and early colonial practice, the death penalty was not a uniform punishment but a range of punishments, some of which the framers likely regarded as cruel and unusual death by hanging was the most common mode of execution both before and after 1791 (when the U.S. Constitution was ratified) and there is no doubt that it remained a permissible punishment after enactment of the Eighth Amendment. “An ordinary death by hanging was not, however, the harshest penalty of the disposal of the seventeenth and eighteenth century state”: S Banner; The Death Penalty: An American History (2002). In addition to hanging, which was intended to, and often did, result in a quick and painless death, “officials also wielded a set of tools capable of intensifying a death sentence,” that is, “ways of producing a punishment worse than death” Banner, id at 54.
One such “tool” was burning at the stake. Because burning, unlike hanging, was always painful and destroyed the body, it was considered a form of “super capital punishment worse than death itself.” Banner at 71. Reserved for offenders whose crimes were thought to pose an especially grave threat to the social order – such as slaves who killed their masters and woman who killed their husbands (contrary to historical myth, burning at the stake was not reserved exclusively for alleged “witches”) burning a person alive was so dreadful a punishment that sheriffs sometimes hanged the offender first “as an act of charity” Banner at 72.
Other methods of intensifying a death sentence included “gibbeting” or hanging the condemned in an iron cage so that (only after prolonged death by starvation) his body would decompose in public view: see Banner at 72-74, and “public dissection,” a punishment Blackstone associated with murder, 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries, 376 (W. Lewis ed 1897). But none of these were the worst fate a criminal could meet. That was reserved for the most dangerous and reprobate offenders – traitors. “The punishment of high treason,” Blackstone wrote, was “very solemn and terrible” and involved “emboweling alive, beheading and quartering.” Thus, the following death sentence could be pronounced on men convicted of high treason:
“That you and each of you be taken to the place when you came, and from thence be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, where you shall be hanged by the necks, not till you are dead, that you be severally taken down while still alive, and your bowels be taken out and burnt before your faces – that your heads be then cut off, and your bodies cut in four quarters, to be at the King’s disposal. And God Almighty have mercy on your souls” G. Scott, History of Capital Punishment 179 (1950). 

The principal object of these aggravated forms of capital punishment was to terrorize the criminal and thereby more effectively deter the crime. Their defining characteristic was that they were purposely designed to inflict pain and suffering beyond that necessary to cause death. As Blackstone put it, “in very atrocious crimes, other circumstances of terror, pain or disgrace were superadded.” These “superadded” circumstances “were carefully handed out to apply terror where it was thought to be frightening to contemplate” Banner, 70.
As the Supreme Court’s two most zealous proponents of the death penalty went on to reluctantly concede, all these forms of capital punishment were subsequently found to “offend the notions of a civilized society” sufficient to “shock the conscience” and constitute the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment, as “embellishments upon the death penalty designed to inflict pain for pain’s sake also would have fallen comfortably within the ordinary meaning of the word ‘cruel’ see U. S. Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language 459 (1773) (defining ‘cruel’ to mean “pleased with hurting others; inhuman; hardhearted; void of pity; wanting compassion; savage; barbarous; unrelenting”). In Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language 52 (1828) (defining “cruel” as “disposed to give pain to others, in body or mind, willing or pleased to torment, vex or afflict; inhuman; destitute of pity, compassion or kindness”).
Although our moral compass continues to evolve, since the introduction of electrocutions as a means of execution, the Supreme Court has declined to recognize any contemporary means of execution as “cruel and unusual” despite repeated examples of horrifically botched executions such as that addressed in Louisiana ex rel. Francis v Resweber 329 U.S. 459 (1947) in which the electric chair famously failed and the condemned prisoner survived – only to have the Supreme Court conclude that the failure to kill the condemned prisoner was merely an “accident” and instructed the State of Louisiana to strap that prisoner in again and try to do a better job the next time. Virtually no consideration was given to the obvious psychological trauma inflicted upon this condemned prisoner.
When it is clear that virtually every member of our Supreme Court unequivocally recognizes that what constitutes the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment are not so much the means in which the death penalty is administered, but whether the process itself was “designed to inflict torture as a way of enhancing a death sentence; (and) intended to produce a penalty far worse than death, to accomplish something more than the mere extinguishment of life. The evil the Eighth Amendment targets is intentional infliction of gratuitous pain which basically has been recognized to give pain to other in body or mind.”
In good conscience, can anyone deny that the condemned prisoner will undoubtedly experience incomprehensible psychological trauma not merely because of his (or her) imminent death, but because of the knowledge that this imminent ritual may not actually produce a “painless” death, but instead inflict a prolonged and unquestionably excruciating and torturous death?
When I consider this issue, I am reminded of the many examples of classic literature I read through the years and how each reached beyond simply telling a story to instead illustrate a greater truth. And it was confronting that inconvenient truth that elevated each to historical significance.
When Mary Shelley wrote the fictional book “Frankenstein,” it was not simply a story of man creating a monster, but how the monster then infected society with a fanatical need to destroy that monster and in that process, consumed by that need to conquer this beast, they became the monster. So too did the story go in “Moby Dick.” Ahab’s obsession with slaying that Great White Whale blinded him and then destroyed him. In the end, the beast presumably survived.
So too does the story go with this struggle to define whether any particular method of execution constitutes the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment – we become consumed with only that physical infliction and conveniently oblivious to the psychological trauma the condemned prisoner must endure.
I have no doubt that in time future generations will look back upon our contemporary society and they will struggle to understand how a society that prides itself on the humane treatment of all people could at the same time blind itself to the infliction of such a barbaric ritual of death. And for what? Nobody can claim that only the worst of the worst are being put to death. And we know that those we do put to death could even be innocent as our judicial system is far from perfect. So we cannot even say that justice is being served.
In the end, the one question that needs to be addressed is simply whether we, as a society, want to define our moral conscience by mimicking the same measure of depravity that we condemn in the “worst of the worst.” If the best that we strive to be is nothing more than the worst of those amongst us, can we ever truly hope to become something better ourselves?
Michael Lambrix 482053
Union Correctional Institution
7819 N.W. 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026
By Michael Lambrix written for the Minutes Before Six website - See more at:

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Alcatraz of the South, Part 6: When the Dreams Began – The Dance With Death

By Michael Lambrix written for the Minutes Before Six website

To read Part 5 click here

It shouldn’t have been this cold when it was barely October, at least not here in Florida and yet there I was awaken in the dead of the night soaked in a cold sweat.  Instantly wide awake, I had been all but violently catapulted back into this realm of reality by the first nightmare that I could recall, and even to this day more than a quarter of a century later, I still remember it only so well.
It was early October 1986, and I had recently been moved to another cell, one just vacated by the condemned man who had hung himself from the ventilation duct in his desperate attempt to escape the reality that was “Death Row”.  I’m not the superstitious sort and never put much stock into “ghosts,” at least not until that night.  Over the years I’ve heard my share of stores that would probably make most shudder and been awaken many nights by the screams of another prisoner who claimed to have seen something – some even claimed to have been physically touched.
I suppose that is should be expected, given the violence and inhumanity that hangs like a wet blanket over any prison. Especially one with the dark history of Florida State Prison, where far more have died a violent death than have been put to death by state sanctioned execution on the infamous “Q-wing.” At the time I could see it from the distant catwalk window from that particular cell I then occupied.

It was strange, and yet familiar, as most dreams can be.  Shadowy shapes crowned by featureless faces that could not be recognized. But there was a part of your inner consciousness that knew who they were.  Each detail was branded into my steel bunk, the well-worn mattress soaked in my own sweat and now stinking of urine and other bodily fluids I don’t care to contemplate, and I lay as still as a trembling man might, staring anxiously at the small steel-grated ventilation duct, as if I perhaps if stared long enough, I would see what something within me believed to be there.
Time becomes irrelevant when one remains trapped between what we might dare call “reality” and that world in which our mind plays when we dare to drift off to sleep.  You know what I’m talking about. We have all been there in our own way.  Only, this was my first trip to that abyss where my own consciousness balanced precariously between those two worlds.
I could not bring myself to look around for fear that it was not a dream.  I could only lay still, willing them to go away.  But they didn’t leave.  They had come for me, the cruel trick of a twisted mind.  I would be deprived of those last few days and hours I had mentally come to count on.  They would rob me of those moments in which I could convince myself I had cheated death, reminding me of that truth we all try to deny: that when it comes down to it, nobody really cheats death.  In the end, nobody gets out alive – nobody.
In this nightmare, my time had come and now all that remained was stolen time that would soon expire.  But it was only a dream – a nightmare, or was it? In that moment, it seemed so real that it had to be real.

I felt myself reading upwards until my hand touched the top of my head in a desperate attempt to reassure myself, as we all know only too well that they will shave the condemned man’s head before that final hour.  Something within me involuntarily screamed as my sweaty palm ran its way across my head, realizing to my horror that it was shaven and so it had to be real, and my fear rose to a new level.  Like a trapped and cornered animal, I felt that panic within me and turned to face that voice of that angel-of-death that now stood before me, dressed in black as if it was the Grim Reaper himself.  It was the prison warden and he looked back at me with an emotionless stare, while all but chanting those few words no condemned man wants to hear… “It’s time to go!”  He had been through this many times and had long ago become enslaved by the strict routine – or as they call it, “protocol.”
Behind the warden stood the prison chaplain.  Desperately, our eyes momentary locked as I stared into his soul, hoping to find even the slightest hint of mercy and compassion, and yet my stare was met only by the graven gleam of a man only too willing to deliver my soul into the very pits of hell himself, and that ever so slight smile that ripped apart his cracked lips confirmed that I would find no measure and mercy from the man of “God”…and I should have known better than to expect such.  I have never known a prison chaplain that had anything but uncompromised malice towards all condemned prisoners.

Nowhere to run, no on to turn to, I felt myself rising from that bunk, moving in a crab-like crawl towards the black wall and unable to go any further, unable to escape….and they stepped forward towards me.  I could not get away. I was hopelessly trapped and apparently the only one who didn’t know it.  With nothing more than a nod of his head, two faceless guards came towards me.  I felt that need to struggle, to fight, but I didn’t…I couldn’t.  They knew what to do and without hesitation, they grabbed me by my upper arms from both sides, all but immobilizing my body with their seemingly superhuman grip.  Within me, I screamed, I struggled, but my own fear had paralyzed me into complete submission.
Almost dragging me from within that relative sanctuary that was my solitary cell, I pled with my captors as they pulled me into that brightly lit hallway. If only I had a few more minutes, just a little bit more time, I would win a reprieve.  They didn’t have to do this, I argued.  But my pleas fell upon calloused ears and again all became silent as I was physically pulled towards the open solid steel door that led beyond and into the fate that awaited me.
In that silence that can only scream from within, my mind continued to struggle and beg with my captors and yet those words within me wouldn’t come out.  My body numbly continued forward as I felt so utterly helpless, so completely alienated from all that was being played out.  It was not really happening – it could not be happening, and yet, it was.

As a group, with my body still firmly gripped at each side by the muscular guards, we stepped into that death chamber and there only a few feet in front of me, I came face to face with that seemingly surreal chariot of death they proudly proclaimed to be “ole Sparky,” Florida’s infamous inmate-built electric chair.  There it sat in a state of inanimate, deathly patience as it awaited its next victim and in that distorted reality of which the worst of dreams are made, I could feel that tangible presence of pure evil that this heavy oak, three-legged wooden beast was.  It was alive as only the monster of beasts could be, its unquenchable thirst for the soul of the next condemned man felt by all within its presence.

The entourage continued to step forward into this unnaturally cold chamber of death, delivering my body on to that perverse altar of state-sanctioned sacrifice.  Consumed by an overwhelming fear that only a condemned man about to be executed could understand, I could only stare ahead in wide-eyed terror as every minute detail became forever branded upon my brain and yet in a surreal sort of way, I could see nothing at all and felt trapped within a freeze frame picture show as if I was somehow separated from my body and looking upon the events, yet another witness to my own imminent execution.

I could see my own body as the guards brought me up to the very presence of this man-made monster and only then ordered me to turn around so that I could be seated and as my body obediently complied. I then felt that first touch of that cold wooden oak chair as the unyielding hands of the only too eager guards guided me down upon it and without further hesitation commences to firmly secure my limbs to that chair.  I could feel the cold, clammy leather straps as they were deliberately pulled tight around each of my wrists. I briefly dared to look into the eyes of one of the guards as he lowered himself down almost as if kneeling before me to then secure each of my lower leg about where my calf was to this solid wooden beast, and I was taken aback by that empty, emotionless absence of a soul of a man and just as quickly turned away. It was like looking into the very eyes of evil itself, and I only felt again that distinctive tightening of another leather strap as that wide black leather restraint was pulled tight around my waist and I then became all but one with that chair, helplessly immobilized and unable to resist any further even if I could have found the strength within me to do so and in that moment in time, I knew that my fate was sealed.

Behind me not more than a few feet away, I could hear whispered voices instructing an unseen executioner, each word thunderously echoing within and yet strangely muffled so that I could not make out the actual words – and yet although not comprehended audibly. I knew what each word said. Lost in that momentary struggle to focus on the voice, I unexpectedly felt the cold steel of the heavy electrode as it was pushed almost violently against my inner ankle as yet another belt-like leather strap was pulled tight to keep it in place.  I could feel the weight of that heavy black wire now firmly attached to my leg and as I looked down, I could see how it snaked its way along the beige faux-marble tile floor only to disappear somewhere behind me.

Without warning, my head was forcibly pulled upward and back by these same strong and determined hands and as it was, I felt the two parallel blocks of wood which would immobilize my head between them, and yet another clammy leather strap was pulled across my forehead and secured tightly behind the chair and just that quickly I could no longer move my head at all. I still felt myself struggle to do so, but it could not be done.

Frantically, with only my eyes free to move, I looked directly forward only to see what appeared to be my own reflection looking back at me from the glass window panes that separated that chamber of death from the spectators that had voluntarily gathered to watch me die this day.  At first, for what seemed to be an eternity, I remained transfixed to that reflection of myself and could now see the fear within my own eyes as if I had myself become one of those spectators and waited now to watch myself die a deliberate and violent death.  As these fragmented thoughts raced through my head, I could feel my own hear thumping louder and louder with each thump-thump reverberating through my entire body and then violently echoing in my head like powerful waves continuously, yet methodically, crashing upon a rocky shore.

Beyond my own reflection, I could see the shadowy shapes of the statuesque figures of the witnesses that sat silently in the gallery beyond.  That glass panel that separated their space from the death chamber was a world away and the dim light beyond played tricks with my perception.  It seemed as if perhaps it was nothing but carefully arranged mannequins. I could detect no movement and try as I might to look into their eyes, desperately darting my own eyes from one to the next, not one made any movement at all, but simply stared at me with a blank, stare reminding me of a sinister oil painting I had once seen. The perception of time passed seemed to cease for me.  It could not had been more than a minute that passed.

I felt a hand as it touched my shoulder and the warmth of another’s breath near my ear.  It was the prison chaplain, asking if I had any last words.  I had many words and wanted so much to say what I felt in my heart, and yet, I could not say a word. I became imprisoned in that prolonged silence as I mentally struggled to utter a sound, any sound.  And I know that I didn’t want that prison chaplain anywhere around me, most especially at the time of my death.  It felt like an unforgiveable act of betrayal that at the very moment I so desperately needed to know that God had not abandoned me, the only representation by anyone acting as a man of God would be a man that I knew held nothing by contempt for true spiritual faith.

But I was nothing more than a state-sanctioned circus and each of the clowns had their own part to play. My part was to die and it was expected that I would not stray from the script.  If I played my part well, then once I was gone, the group of guards and prison administrators would congratulate themselves on what a fine and outstanding job they did.
I struggled to speak a few incoherent words. Even I could not make out what I had said. In that ghostly reflection of the glass I could see the chaplain almost smiling as I felt his hand gently pat my shoulder, and just as he did, the guard standing behind the chair suddenly pulled down a leather mask over my face.  Although serving its purpose of hiding my face from those who would be horrified if compelled to watch the involuntary muscular contortions as they would soon rip through my facial tissue, I could still see light coming from both sides of that leather mask, and was by no means blinded myself.

Continuing the ritual with the precision of a properly trained drill team, I felt a heavy weight at the top of my head as unseen guards moved quickly to now attach that metal colander atop the leather scull cap and then the heavy wire to that single brass screw.  I felt water running down my face and the smell of salt – and the unmistakable scent of previously burnt flesh – and found myself wondering why they didn’t at least use a new sponge, as we all knew that they would attach that piece of natural sponge soaked in a saline solution so as to serve as the conductor between the electrode and my shaven head.

That apparatus affixed to the top of my head was secured by yet another leather strip with a crudely fashioned small cup brought down to my chin and pulled unnecessarily tight, so tight that it forced my teeth together in physical pain.  I knew that my last moments were now all but exhausted and in a moment of sudden calmness, that blanket of fear that had hung over me as I played my own part in this twisted ritual of death was suddenly lifted.  In that moment of clarity of thought and consciousness, I felt as if time had suddenly frozen altogether, even the whispered voices echoing in an otherwise unnatural silence seemed to cease and all was quiet, even too quiet.
But just as quickly that overwhelming fear returned with a forceful vengeance and somehow I knew that within those next few seconds my nightmare would take its final twist.  I continued to stare straight ahead, eyes wide open looking forward into that darkness of that black leather mask. I was stricken by a violent physical force that ripped through my body with an unimaginable pain as if ever molecule of my being was simultaneously being ripped apart, and I could feel that warmth of my own urine running down my thighs and puddling in the recesses of that chair, and my body violently strained against the straps that held me and swithin the very depths of my soul I felt myself scream as only a man being electrocuted could and it wouldn’t stop. I remained fully aware of each pulse of electricity that was shoot through my head down into my back and through my left foot and out that electrode attached to my ankle.

As my body arched in unnatural contortion, I felt my fingertips desperately dig into each of the arms of that heavy oak chair, molding themselves into the slight recesses previously imprinted by past patrons of this infamous chariot of death and forever continued to slip slowly by one eternal second after another, and that unspeakable pain wouldn’t stop, cutting through me like a dull knife, ripping my organs apart with its shear force and all the while I could hear the distinctive sound of a phone ringing and found myself wondering why nobody would answer the phone….
And then I awoke.  It was so cold, as if death itself, and yet my body was soaked from head to toe in sweat, and I lay there motionless, trembling uncontrollably and yet willing myself not to move lest they realize that I am still alive and proceed to put me through this again.  I could still hear that phone ringing in the distance, and as I slowly awoke I realized that it was coming through the window out on the catwalk, where just a few feet away a phone hung on the wall for the recreation yard crew.  But why would anyone call that number in the middle of the night when nobody would be out on the rec yard at that hour?

That was but my first dance with death, and although as the years dragged by I would have many, too many other similar dreams of my own death, not one remained branded within my very being like that first one was.  And when I would awaken on other sleepless nights vaguely aware that I must have been dreaming again, I found that the dream I remembered would always be that first nightmare that I had back in the early fall of 1986 and it would continue to haunt me with a determination that only the angel of death could possess.
As the years passed, Florida did away with the electric chair and banish that three-legged monstruosity  to an undisclosed warehouse where it would remain as a piece of history that would come to be looked upon just as today we look with morbid fascination upon the relics of that dark history of humanity’s past.

For as many years as Florida continued to use that electric chair, at least in those years that I have been here now, they have adopted use of a gurney upon which the condemned man would be strapped and rendered physically immobilized in that same chamber of death as a lethal dose of drugs would be pumped into his (or her) veins until death was inflicted.
And yet in all those years since the use of lethal injection replaced the use of that chair, not even once have I ever dreamed of my own death by lethal injection, and to this day when I do awake knowing that I yet again was visited by that nightmare of so long ago, it is still always a death by electrocution in that chair and no other.

That was October 1986 and although a lifetime ago and in a cell at another prison, (in December 1992, Florida opened the then newly constructed “northeast unit” at nearby Union Correctional Institution to house the majority of death-sentenced prisoners), that nightmare is never far from my consciousness and I know without doubt that others around me have had similar nightmares of their own death and yet we do not dare talk about it.  And no matter how many more years might yet pass, I know only too well that that one night in October 1986 will always be part of who I am, and that I can never escape the trauma inflicted upon my very soul and know that if the day does come when I am to be put to death, I will not find the real experience as frightening as that first nightmare.
To be continued....
Michael Lambrix 482053
Union Correctional Institution
7819 NW 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Please Spare Michael Lambrix's Life - sign the petition!


Michael Lambrix has been on death row for nearly 31 years.

He has always maintained that he acted in self-defence and there are grave doubts about the safeness of both the conviction and the death sentence. His family and pen friends around the world would be deeply affected by the loss of a friend they have learned to know, admire and respect.
A clemency submission was filed on 5 December. This calls for a full clemency review, at which witnesses could be called, rather than the limited review on paper that has so far been allowed.

Letter to
Office of Executive Clemency Governor Rick Scott
Commission on Offender Review Florida
Joined by a strong commitment to justice, the undersigned respectfully request that the clemency authorities of Florida allow a full Clemency Review for Michael Lambrix DC#482053, born March 29, 1960, who faces execution for a double murder for which he was convicted in 1984. Among our reasons for requesting this are as follows:

1. The initial trial in 1983 resulted in a hung jury. A second trial was held in 1984. The jury’s recommendation of the death sentence was not unanimous. Michael Lambrix has consistently stated that he acted in self-defense and has protested his innocence of capital murder.

2. There has been a failure of the judicial process, allowing the case to fall through the cracks. A range of new evidence has come to light since Mr. Lambrix’s last clemency review in 1987, which itself was perfunctory. This includes exculpatory evidence which was never presented to the jury, such as the fact that a key witness has retracted her trial testimony and the State’s main witness admitted under oath in an evidentiary hearing that she had been sexually involved with the Chief Investigator for the prosecutor during the pre-trial investigation. Another key witness later (post-trial) withdrew her testimony, leaving no witnesses who still contend that the homicides were committed in the way that they were presented to the jury. A full and fair review of all the evidence has never been conducted.

3. Executing Michael Lambrix after he has already spent 30 years under sentence of death for a crime which is surrounded by such serious doubts would be inappropriate and inhumane, if not immoral. Where the ultimate punishment is handed down, there must also be the ultimate certainty. By any measure, this certainty is not present in this case.

4. Michael Lambrix has repeatedly made it clear how the events continue to haunt him and how not a day goes by that he doesn’t feel remorse.

5. The life of Michael Lambrix has demonstrable value. He has, against the odds, attempted to make the most of his time on death row. Having come from a deeply troubled background and having been regarded at school as developmentally disabled, he has managed to educate himself in the most difficult of circumstances and is clearly a man of considerable intellect and inner resources. Among other things he spends his time helping other prisoners with their legal work.

6. His writings and his correspondence with people in the US and in other countries around the world have earned him high respect and have been an inspiration to many people.

Given the doubts surrounding the conviction and the sentence handed down, we respectfully ask the Florida Commission on Offender Review to ensure that a full clemency review be granted for Cary Michael Lambrix and failing that to grant commutation to life imprisonment.

Innocent and Executed - Please Read