Criminal Justice

Execution Stayed for Michael Lambrix Amid Challenges To Florida's Heavy-Handed Death Penalty Scheme

Nearly 400 appeals from death row prisoners could be heading through Florida's legal system.


Sean Hobson / Flickr

The execution of Cary Michael Lambrix, scheduled for Feb. 11, was stayed by the Florida Supreme Court last Tuesday amid questions about the legality of executions following Hurst v. Florida, a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down earlier this year.

In 1984, Michael Lambrix was convicted of killing Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant with a tire iron. Lambrix then supposedly buried the two bodies close to his trailer home. His partner was arrested soon after the event on unrelated charges and quickly informed the police of Lambrix's brutal alleged deeds, leading them to the victims' grave. The Lambrix case itself is controversial, though, as the jury could not initially agree on a verdict, leading to a retrial the following year. During the second trial, eight out of 12 jurors recommended the death penalty—a simple majority—sending Lambrix to death row according to Florida law.

Lambrix's side of the story, publicized by Amnesty International, is that Moore assaulted Bryant, leading Lambrix to kill Moore in defense of both himself and Bryant.

While Lambrix awaits his postponed execution, two issues must be sorted out in Florida: who has final say over aggravating factors and death recommendations (judge or jury) and whether Hurst must be applied retroactively for those currently on death row.

It matters because the Supreme Court declared in Hurst that a system that gives judges the power to impose the death penalty, with juries simply playing an advisory role, violates the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. If retroactive, this would drastically change what happens to those set to be executed in Florida.

On one hand, representatives from the state attorney general's office worry the increase in appeals if Hurst were made retroactive would be a processing "nightmare" for Florida, which has around 400 prisoners currently awaiting execution. On the other hand, if the appeals are successful it will lead to an overall decrease in executions, and a far more careful application of the law going forward.

As if the story weren't convoluted enough with the questions of Lambrix's guilt and of whether Hurst should apply retroactively, legislation is moving forward in the Florida House of Representatives that would require unanimous agreement by all 12 jurors on finding one or more aggravating factors necessary to impose a death sentence, and a simple majority of 9 out of 12 jurors to recommend a death sentence, up from 7 jurors previously required.

As it currently stands, jurors must reach only a simple majority to recommend death—a fact that some find inconsistent with the spirit of the law as established in the court case Ring v. Arizona. That there are only two other states that allow non-unanimous juries to recommend death for a defendant shows Florida's exceptional heavy-handedness when dealing with matters of life and death. Assuming you care about protecting the constitutional rights of defendants and ensuring that states do their due diligence before choosing to execute, this legislation is a step in the right direction.

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    1. Throwing people down a well is not an approved form of capital punishment. It violates EPA regulations.

  1. I wonder how many of those 400 death row prisoners got there without a unanimous jury vote.

  2. Sounds like it would be a whole lot easier if the state just stopped killing people.

    1. Or if they killed people faster.

        1. ^sponsored by my scumbag state rep.^

    2. I agree with Hugh. We need to kill these people as quickly as possible.

    3. But the people don’t want it to be easier. They want vengeance.

      1. But that’s the thing…the government didn’t *allow* the people – sitting as jurors – to rule on the relevant aggravating factors which trigger the death penalty. That power was taken from the people and given to judges.

        Now the Supremes have restored the power to the people.

    4. But that’s the one thing the State is actually good at.

  3. If retroactive, this would drastically change what happens to those set to be executed in Florida.

    Worse than that, how many people will the state have to dig up and resentence? There are already enough zombies lurking in the Sunshine State.

    1. There’s gotta be enough voodoo practicing Cubans around. It shouldn’t be too much trouble.

    2. Which is worse, death or eternal undeath? Discuss.

      1. Let me rephrase that. Which is worse: death or undeath in Florida? Discuss.

        1. Pretty sure Iron Maiden made a song about this already.

          1. That is one of the best Maiden songs. Which says a lot for a band that has been around since the 70s.

            1. Wholeheartedly agree. If there’s anything band I might consider to have made a deal with Satan for insane talent, it’s Iron Maiden.

      2. Do you get to keep your wits, sensory perception, a mouth, some form of locomotion, and control over your destiny? Because then eternal undeath sounds rather appealing. If, on the other hand, you are talking about the “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” type of undeath, then, yeah, I’ll take the death.

  4. How could the Hurst decision not be applied retroactively? The 6A has been around a lot longer than Florida’s current criminal justice system.

    1. Yeah, but the US Supreme Court keeps changing its mind, like in this case.

      In earlier decisions, the Supremes said Florida’s law was constitutional. Now they just declared it unconstitutional.

      Isn’t it unfair to the poor state of Florida to change the rules on them like that? /sarc

      It’s my understanding that the *lowe* federal courts (as opposed to the US Supreme Court itself) aren’t allowed to question a state court’s guilty verdict and sentence unless the state courts grossly misapplied US Supreme Court precedent existing *at the time.* So if a Floridian was sentenced to death *before* the most recent US Supreme Court decision, when the Supremes’ precedents indicated that Florida’s law was OK, then I doubt the lower federal courts will be able to do anything about it.

      Of course, the state courts could act, and the U.S. Supreme Court could take some of these cases.

      Correct me if I’m wrong.

      1. Correct me if I’m wrong.

        Sounds good to me. Half of the high court’s decisions don’t make any logical sense to me anyway.

  5. So, for once the Supreme Court enforces an actual constitutional right in a capital case – the right to jury trial.

    Normally, the Supremes apply an “evolving standards of decency” clause which they pulled out of their butts and stuck in the Eighth Amendment.

    1. “evolving standards of decency”

      So based on all the reports coming out of college campuses these days we can expect the courts of 2040 to declare any punishment to be cruel and unusual, right?

  6. Written by a true anti death penalty advocate. Hell why punish them at all. Everyone always has an excuse (which they probably believe or at least hope you do) for what they do. If you have ever sat on a jury you hear some of the most lame excuses why little Johnny should get a lenient sentence even though it is the sixth time he has been arrested and tried.

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