Fla. Supreme Court denies death row inmate’s appeal
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court on Friday said it won’t reconsider the case of a longtime death row inmate who is scheduled to be put to death next week.
The ruling means the execution of convicted double-murderer Michael Lambrix will, for now, take place as planned at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Lambrix had filed another challenge to his death sentences — his eighth successive post-conviction motion, the court said — on the basis of recent changes to Florida’s death penalty sentencing procedures, which were prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst vs. Florida.
That ruling in January 2016 demanded Florida fix its then-unconstitutional procedures. The Legislature enacted changes this spring so now a unanimous jury recommendation is required in all death penalty cases.
In his latest request for the Florida Supreme Court to rehear his case, Lambrix argued that his death sentences are unconstitutional under Florida’s new law because they came from non-unanimous juries. He also argued the state Supreme Court’s decisions on how the Hurst opinion applied retroactively to previous death sentences was a violation of equal protection rights.
Following Hurst, the Florida Supreme Court in December cemented death sentences for nearly 200 prisoners — including Lambrix — whose sentences were finalized before a June 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling referenced in the Hurst decision.
The justices cited their December decision and related rulings as their reasons for denying Lambrix’s request for a rehearing. The Supreme Court had also previously ruled that Lambrix “is not entitled to relief based on Hurst” because of when his sentences were finalized, which they emphasized again Friday.
“While it is true that the jury non-unanimously recommended death for the 1983 murders of the two victims, Lambrix’s sentences were final in 1986,” the court wrote in its majority opinion. “No rehearing will be entertained by this court.”
The decision was 5-1, with Justice Barbara Pariente dissenting. The court’s seventh justice, Peggy Quince, recused herself.
Pariente said she preferred to vacate Lambrix’s death sentences and send the case back to a lower court so Lambrix can be re-sentenced — the same process that’s affecting dozens of death cases finalized after June 2002.
Lambrix could still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A circuit court judge earlier this month first denied Lambrix’s request for a rehearing, and the justices wrote this week that they expedited his appeal “in light of the pending execution date.”
Gov. Rick Scott signed a new death warrant a few weeks ago that set Lambrix’s execution for Oct. 5.
Lambrix has been on death row since 1984 after he was convicted in 1983 of murdering Aleisha Bryant and Clarence Moore Jr., following a night of drinking in Glades County.
Scott’s office described the crime as Lambrix having “lured Moore outside, and viciously attacked him with a tire iron, repeatedly hitting him in the head and fracturing his skull. Lambrix then called Bryant to come outside, where he attacked her, kicking her in the head and strangling her.”
But in an interview with the Times/Herald in 2016, Lambrix contended that Moore strangled Bryant and that he used a tire iron to fatally batter Moore in self-defense. He admitted that he and his girlfriend, Frances Smith, buried both victims in a shallow grave and that he refused to call police because he was a fugitive from a prison work detail.
Lambrix was previously set to die in February 2016, but his execution was halted then amid the questions over the constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty law.