Fla. Supreme Court de­nies death row in­mate’s ap­peal

Tampa Bay Times - - Tampa Bay & Florida News - BY KRIS­TEN M. CLARK Times/Her­ald Tallahassee Bureau Con­tact Kris­ten M. Clark at (850) 222-3095 or kclark@mi­ami­her­ald.com. Fol­low @ByKris­tenMClark.

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.

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