Instead of opting for a few final words as he is strapped to a gurney in the death chamber, Florida Death Row inmate Mike Lambrix decided to speak his mind during an hour-long group interview Tuesday, two days before his scheduled execution.
Inmates are given the option to have a group interview with interested news media or to do a one-on-one interview with one outlet or, of course, do no interviews. Lambrix broke the nearly 15-year pattern of opting for the one-on-ones and spoke freely, insisting on his innocence and describing his frustrations with the court system.
“It won't be an execution. It's going to be an act of cold blooded murder. The state of Florida is going to be deliberately putting to death an innocent person,” said Lambrix, seated behind a seal of the Florida Department of Corrections. Above the seal, was painted the department's motto: “Inspiring success by transforming one life at a time.”
He said he wanted to make statements in advance of the day of the execution in case any of the family members of the victims decide to attend, as they are allowed to do.
“I don't want to put them through any more pain and suffering by making statements that they might find insensitive in that moment. They've been through so much and I'd just like them to have that that time that they need,” explained Lambrix.
Over the nearly 34 years Lambrix’s has lived on Florida’s Death Row, he has consistently maintained his innocence, though on Tuesday he admitted to feeling guilty about not talking more openly to police when he was first arrested.
“I never gave a statement. I regret that now. I wish I would have been more like so many of these guys who do get arrested and they just don't shut up. You know, I wish I had told them everything up front,” said Lambrix.
Lambrix was sentenced to death in 1984 for two murders on Feb. 6, 1983. Aleisha Bryant was strangled and Clarence Moore Jr. was hit over the head with a tire iron.
While he says he was there, Lambrix says the premeditated first-degree murder never happened the way the prosecution’s narrative described. Lambrix maintains Moore killed Bryant and that Lambrix hit Moore in self-defense.
Not long before, Lambrix had walked off a state correctional work release detail, a criminal offense; going to the police would have meant being re-incarcerated, so he buried the bodies, he said.
After he refused a plea deal--which, had he taken it, would have resulted in Lambrix walking free more than a decade ago--Lambrix’s first trial ended in a hung jury.
At his retrial, he was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two different jury recommendations for death. Those votes were 8-4 and 10-2.
This is the fourth date Lambrix has received for his execution. The first was in November 1988. He was more recently set for execution on Feb. 8, 2016, the next in line for the death chamber before a major U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Hurst v. Florida, threw out the state’s method for sentencing people to death. It was unconstitutional, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority opinion, for the judge to have the final say in sentencing. That was the responsibility of the jury, the court ruled. This decision put the death penalty on hold until the state could write new sentencing rules.
The Hurst decision has since been interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court to mean that half of those on Death Row have a chance at a new sentence. But those like Lambrix, who were sentenced before 2002, will not get that chance.
“This is not about killing the worst of the worst. The death penalty is about killing the most vulnerable, those least able to defend against this insanity,” said Lambrix. “It's not about administering justice.”
Death Row inmates whose cases were finalized after 2002 and had similarly non-unanimous recommendations have, since Hurst, been given a shot at a new sentence. That 2002 cut off has been a source of criticism from many death penalty oppponents, who say that date has resulted in an arbitrary system.
June 24, 2002 is the date of another U.S. Supreme Court Case, Ring v. Arizona, which was essential to building the Hurst decision.
For 12 days after Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant, Lambrix went on a hunger strike. While he had intended to continue it until the end, he says he had to cut it short.
“I did not anticipate how much it would affect my family,” Lambrix said. “I have been blessed with the most incredible family and friends around the world, who sacrificed so much of themselves to help me. And so when I realized how much it was affecting them, after 12 days I voluntarily terminated the hunger strike.”
Lambrix has been exceptionally vocal about his experience on Florida’s Death Row, sending essays to friends who update his blog. A few of his letters and articles have been published in compilations of inmate literature.
“Even if I'm gone I want to leave something behind,” Lambrix said of his writings, “And I like to think that, you know, one day -- maybe not today but one day -- what I leave behind in my writings will be relevant to a society that will evolve that will look back at us today and say how could they have done this.”
Lambrix’s execution is set for 6 p.m. Thursday.