There is an insidious epidemic of injustice in America, a malignant plague of moral and ethical corruption that is eating away at the integrity of our judicial system from within, undermining any confidence our society can have in our judicial system itself.
Is our contemporary use of capital punishment being maliciously exploited by the new face of bigotry as morally and ethically corrupt prosecutors and judges deliberately manipulate the judicial system to convict and condemn innocent men and women for no other purpose but to unscrupulously advance their own political agendas? Are the poor and underprivileged now the new faces of victims of morally intolerable discrimination, especially in the Deep South, as these politically ambitious parasites willfully send innocent men and women to death row, condemning them not because they are guilty of a crime, but because of their inability to defend against the charges.
In recent years over 125 men and women have been exonerated and released from death rows across the country after being found by the courts to have been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death. What do virtually all of these victims of injustice have in common? Every one of these men and women were poor and underprivileged, financially incapable of defending against the relatively infinite resources of the state. How many of these victims of the ultimate injustice were deliberately targeted for prosecution not because of a good faith belief in their guilt, but because of their impoverished status; they were easy to convict in spite of innocence?
The undeniable truth is that there are two distinct systems of law and justice in this country – there is justice for the rich and there is justice for the poor. When it comes to “justice” in America, you get what you pay for. On one hand we watch as those of wealth and privilege accused of horrific crimes buy their justice with multi million dollar “dream team” defenses while at the opposite extreme we consistently see the poor and underprivileged being victimized by a judicial system that has grown increasingly indifferent, even openly hostile, to the basic concepts of fundamental fairness and equality of all men before our Courts of Law.
Even if unquestionably guilty (much less actually innocent!) those of wealth and privilege are almost never condemned to death. In our system in which justice is supposedly “blind,” it certainly recognizes the smell of money as capital punishment in America is reserved exclusively for the lumpenproletariats of our society – the lowest of low, only the poor and underprivileged. What is the difference between racial prejudice and socio-economical prejudice? As a progressively maturing society we have grown justifiably intolerant of racial prejudice, recognizing bigotry for the morally destructive malignancy that it is. Where once in the not so distant past our Courts even found slavery to be constitutional, today our contemporary judicial system rightfully – if not obviously belated – recognizes as a matter of moral conscience and judicial integrity a contempt for racially motivated injustices.
But has our seemingly inherent need to hate actually only evolved into a less visible but equally insidious means of practicing discrimination by now embracing a socio-economical bias in our administration of justice, which invites unethical prosecutors to deliberately target the poor and underprivileged and unjustly convict, and even condemn them to death, in spite of innocence?
The administration of “justice” is defined as the action, or principle, of treating all persons equally and fairly in accordance with the law. Constitutional due process demands the preservation and practice of equality and fairness within our judicial system. Ultimately, any society is not judged by the privileges afforded those of wealth, but by the protections provided to the very least of society against the arbitrary and unfair actions of government.
When our judicial system cannot – or will not – protect the very least if our citizens against prejudicially motivated injustices resulting in the unconscionably high rate of wrongfully convicted and condemned men and women as evidenced by a consistent, self-evident pattern of socio-economical bias, then that intolerable deprivation of equality under the law constitutes a pervasive moral corruption that will inevitably eat away at the very soul of our society, ultimately undermining the fundamental foundation upon which our democracy remains precariously balanced.
Does Innocence Really Even Matter?
What if you are the deliberate victim of an unethical, overzealous prosecutor who maliciously uses his power of office to manipulate – even fabricate—wholly circumstantial evidence with the calculated intent to have you wrongfully convicted and condemned to death in spite of your innocence? What few people realize is that our United States Supreme Court has given even corrupt prosecutors “absolute immunity” – that as long as they are acting in a prosecutorial capacity they can intentionally fabricate evidence and even conspire with and coerce witnesses to commit perjury to deliberately have an innocent man wrongfully convicted and condemned to death, and remain absolutely immune from accountability. Imber v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976) There is a common misconception that after a person is convicted and condemned to death every capital case is thoroughly reviewed by the appellate courts to ensure specifically that the person is actually guilty of the alleged crime. That is absolutely not true! By law, the courts are only authorized to review specifically raised claims of alleged error. The burden is upon the condemned to prove that error was sufficient enough to have resulted in the deprivation of a “fair trial.” A claim of actual innocence by itself cannot be raised or reviewed as our Supreme Court has unequivocally declared that our Constitution only guarantees a “fair trial” – it does not prohibit the states from executing an innocent person. Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993) If you are wrongfully convicted and condemned to death for a crime you are innocent of – even if God himself and a council of twelve archangels were to miraculously appear before the Supreme Court to attest your actual innocence – the Courts are legally prohibited from vacation that conviction merely because you are innocent.
The entire system of appellate review is inherently dependent upon the condemned prisoner receiving competent legal representation not only at trial, but throughout the entire post conviction review process as any claims of alleged error must be properly – and timely – presented to the courts for review. Any failure to fully comply with the myriad of technically complex rules applicable to capital appellate review results in strictly enforced procedural defaults that prohibit a court from reviewing that alleged error; Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991). Even when newly discovered evidence conclusively proving your actual innocence is not properly raised by competent legal council within applicable time limitations the courts are prohibited from reviewing the evidence.
Since only the poor and underprivileged are sentenced to death, once a person is wrongfully convicted and condemned to death for a crime they are innocent of, they become entirely dependent upon the system to provide them with the legal representation necessary to raise their claims of alleged error. However, the Supreme Court has declared that indigent death sentenced prisoner do not have any right to appointment of legal counsel once a conviction has been affirmed on initial review. In fact, the Court held that a condemned prisoner has no right to legal representation at all in post conviction proceedings. Murray v. Giarratano, 402 U.S. 1 (1988).
Most states accept that they cannot “morally” carry out an execution unless the condemned prisoner is technically represented by legal counsel; so the states create politically controlled agencies to represent the condemned (See, “A Matter of Law and Death,” St. Petersburg Times, April 10, 2006) which then arguably by deliberate intent and design appoint inexperienced and even pathetically incompetent lawyers. Intentionally reducing post conviction review to nothing more that a pathetically superficial pretense with the objective of expediting executions by circumventing meaningful review of capital convictions. Does innocence really even matter? No, innocence is not even a legitimate legal issue once you’ve been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death. As our U.S. Supreme Court plainly said, our Constitution—our American judicial system – does not prohibit the conviction and subsequent execution of an innocent person.
Legally Sanctioned Lynching
Where not so long ago the Deep South was infamously known for its white sheets and midnight lynching today’s contemporary bigots now were tailored suits and manipulate the judicial system into carrying out their legally sanctioned lynching. When we consistently see that it is only the poorest that are being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death, especially in the small towns of the South, can we any longer deny that this malignancy of socio-economical prejudice is presently being openly practiced within our judicial system today – and even being facilitated and condoned at the highest levels of our judiciary?
The simple truth is that although most are honorable and serve with integrity, just as there are bad cops, there are bad prosecutors. Accountability weeds out the “bad apples” in law enforcement and preserves the integrity of the law enforcement system as a whole. But in our judicial system morally and ethically corrupt prosecutors who deliberately convict and condemn innocent people by maliciously using fabricated evidence, coerced false testimony, and willfully violate the most basic rights of the criminal defendant are not being held accountable. If the “bad apples” are not removed from our judicial system, inevitably they will rot the whole bunch.
In Florida alone at least 25 men and women have been exonerated and released from death row – the majority of whom were wrongfully convicted and condemned to death because of deliberate prosecutorial misconduct, yet not even once has the prosecutor responsible for unethically perpetuating these inconceivable injustices been held accountable.
Florida by far leads the country in the staggering number of men and women wrongfully convicted and condemned to death in a large part because a single State Attorney’s Office (Twentieth Judicial Circuit) has the highest rate of wrongful capital convictions in the entire country.
Comprised of mostly rural, small farming communities of Southwest Florida (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, and Lee Counties) this single office alone has already sent at least five innocent men to death row, all subsequently found to have been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death, and ordered released by the courts. (Delbert Tibbs, James Richardson, Bradley Scott, John Landry, and John Ballard). Examination of these cases shows a consistent pattern of manipulating the judicial system with flagrant disregard for ethical constraints and a flagitious contempt for justice.
Is this is a rats nest of state sanctioned serial killers methodically preying upon the poor and underprivileged, deliberately and insidiously victimizing those incapable of defending against the over whelming resources and power of the state? Incredibly, to this day there has not been a single investigation into why this one office has such a staggering rate of wrongful convictions. How many more innocent victims of injustice remain in prison – even on death row – as a result of unethical prosecution by this state attorney’s office?
John Ballard was the most recent exoneree released from Florida’s death row after being convicted and condemned to death in a wholly circumstantial case (no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, no confession, etc) by the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office top prosecutor, Deputy Assistant State Attorney, Randall McGruther. In 2006 the Florida Supreme Court threw out the convictions and ordered the release of Ballard after thoroughly examining the specious circumstantial evidence, concluding that there was no credible evidence sufficient to support any conviction.
Randall McGruther received his job as top prosecutor, the Deputy Assistant State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit, by his long time personal friend the elected State Attorney, Steve Russell shortly after McGruther was alleged to have attempted to improperly coerce a witness into signing a fabricated affidavit in a criminal case. With the proverbial fox guarding the hen house, is it any surprise that no formal charges of misconduct were ever brought against McGruther?
But it is McGruther’s personal prosecution of another wholly circumstantial capital case that best illustrates the absence of integrity and ethical constraint in that office. It is that case that provides a graphic portrait of the epitome of a Southern Injustice by illustrating how relatively easy it is for corrupt agents of the state to maliciously fabricate a capital case with deliberate intent to send an innocent men to death row – and the morally despicable lengths these state agents will subsequently go to in an effort to prevent the truth of that unconscionable injustice from being exposed.
The integrity of our judicial system is inherently dependent upon the integrity of those we empower to enforce our laws. An examination of the staggering numbers of cases in which innocent men have been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death in the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida shows that each of these men were poor and underprivileged, incapable of defending against the resources of a morally and ethically corrupt office.
This is the new face of bigotry and injustice in the South, where simply being poor is enough to target a man for a legally sanctioned lynching.
The Epitome of a Southern Injustice
Have you read John Grisham’s most recent bestseller “The Innocent man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town”? In this book Grisham tells the true-life tragic story of how a once promising baseball player was wrongfully convicted and condemned to death in a small town in Oklahoma. For almost eleven years Ron Williamson remained on death row before finally being exonerated by DNA evidence and released.
But as Grisham’s book shows, at least as equally traumatic as the injustice of being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death is the subsequent inevitable psychological degradation of being unjustly warehoused in long-term solitaire confinement under extremely oppressive and inhumane conditions, never for a moment allowed to forget that you are there only to die. That interminable state of prolonged uncertainty of your fate is the truly irreversible infliction imposed upon the wrongfully condemned.
At 48 years old Mike Lambrix has now spent most of his entire adult life (25 years) on Florida’s death row for a crime he is innocent of. In early 1983, Lambrix moved to rural Glades County to take a job as a farm mechanic. A stranger in a small southern town, Lambrix soon found himself charged in a locally sensationalized double homicide, then indicted on two counts of a capital crime.
At the time Randall McGruther was a relatively inexperienced, but ambitious, small town prosecutor anxious to make a name for himself. Even with no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions, before Lambrix was even arrested McGruther was publicly proclaiming his own specious theory that this monster had meandered into their midst, maliciously luring an innocent couple to an isolated area, and then brutally killing them in a sick and senseless crime.
Lambrix was appointed a young public defender with no prior experience handling a capital case and the pretense of justice began. Having succeeded in working the local community into a bloodthirsty frenzy with outrageous exaggerated stories McGruther then strenuously opposed moving the trial out of Glades County. The case was presided over by Judge Richard Stanley, himself formally a local prosecutor with a reputation for contempt towards capital defendants and an overzealous advocate of the death penalty, See, Porter v. State, 728 So 2d 191 (Fla. 1998)(recognizing Judge Stanley’s extreme bias.)
An all white jury was seated to hear the case that included four jurors directly related to members of the local sheriff’s office – including the stepfather of a local deputy who at the time of trial was under an active FBI investigation for brutally assaulting Lambrix in the two-cell county jail only a few months earlier.
McGruther opened the state’s case by conceding to the jury that the entire case was built upon the testimony of Lambrix’s own ex-girlfriend, Frances Smith, who had accompanied Lambrix to a local bar that fateful night where by chance they had met this “couple.” After many hours of drinking the four ended up at Lambrix’s remote residence where – McGruther arguing his own fallaciously fabricated theory – Lambrix then maliciously lured each out one at a time, them brutally murdered them before “forcing” Francis Smith to assist in superficially concealing the two bodies and fleeing the area.
Smith testified that although she did not actually see Lambrix commit any crime, he later told her that he deliberately killed the two to steal their car; her testimony was then corroborated by Deborah Hanzel, (Smith’s own cousin’s girlfriend) who testified Lambrix also told her he had killed them to take their car.
The jury was not allowed to hear that Smith had actually told law enforcement officials numerous other stories prior to trial that directly conflicted with her trial testimony and that she also had failed a state administered polygraph test. Additionally, the jury was not allowed to hear that the male victim was a career criminal and “known drug smuggler” with a history of violently assaulting women and had only recently met the young local waitress killed a few days earlier. See, Lambrix v. State, 494 So.2d 1143 (Fla. 1986)
Following a disagreement over the defense strategy, Lambrix’s counsel compelled the Judge to prohibit Lambrix from personally testifying thus Smith’s claims of what Lambrix allegedly said went unchallenged. See, Lambrix v. Singletary, 72 F. 3d 1500 (11th Cir. 1996) No defense was presented beyond the argument that substantial reasonable doubt existed as the specious theory argued by McGruther plainly contradicted the evidence and the key witness was conspiring to have her estranged ex-boyfriend (Lambrix) wrongfully convicted and condemned to death. But McGruther argued there was no actual evidence of any conspiracy. See, A Parody Of Justice (St. Petersburg Times, August 31, 1997)
That evidence of an actual conspiracy and collaboration between the key witness and the state attorney’s office to, by deliberate intent and design, have Lambrix wrongfully convicted and condemned to death would remain intentionally concealed for many years, but inevitably the truth has a way of coming out. (For a complete chronological account of this case please see, www.southerninjustice.net )
In 1988 Lambrix came within hours of execution after a “death warrant” was signed, but he received a “stay” so that the Federal Court could review his appeals. By 1997 the Federal Courts denied his appeals, and in a 5 to 4 vote the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Lambrix’s death sentences even though recognizing Lambrix was unconstitutionally sentenced to death upon finding that Lambrix’s appointed counsel failed to properly present the claims. See, Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518 (1997)
As Lambrix prepared to be moved back to “death watch” with little hope of stopping the now anticipated execution, astonishing new evidence came forth from an unexpected source when former state witness Deborah Hanzel, in an act of “conscience,” admitted that her trial testimony was false. In a subsequent affidavit and under sworn oath she was even more explicit – she was coerced to provide false testimony by the key witness Smith and the investigator for the state attorney’s office, and that an actual conspiracy to fabricate false evidence existed with the intent of having Lambrix wrongfully convicted. As Lambrix’s attorneys immediately initiated an investigation into Hanzel’s claims, that a deliberate conspiracy existed to wrongfully convict Lambrix, even more startling evidence was discovered. Shortly before a court hearing in 2004 Lambrix’s attorneys unexpectedly received information that while Lambrix was being prosecuted, the key witness – his estranged ex-girlfriend Frances Smith – was actually having a secret relationship “of a sexual nature” with the state attorney’s own lead investigator, Robert Daniels. Under oath in court, confronted with this information Smith reluctantly admitted it was true. Investigator Daniels was not only the lead investigator in the local state attorney’s office. He was also the very person who signed the affidavit originally initiating these charges against Lambrix, then personally supervised the development of the wholly circumstantial evidence used at trial to corroborate Smith’s otherwise unsupported allegations.
A top expert in homicide investigations was retained to independently re-examine the case and concluded that the state’s entire theory was based upon fabricated and deliberately manipulated evidence – that there was no credible evidence to support the theory McGruther argued to the jury. Additionally, two former state medical examiners reviewed the original medical examiner’s autopsy reports and found no evidence to support the state’s conclusions. Not surprisingly, fingernail scrapings taken from the female victim that would have allowed DNA tests to conclusively show who killed her conveniently disappeared. See, An Uncertain Capital Case (St. Petersburg Times, July 11, 2004)
As evidence that McGruther personally participated in the now revealed conspiracy and collaboration to have Lambrix wrongfully convicted and condemned to death was developed, after over 20 years of making a career out of methodically stalking Lambrix’s unjustified execution, McGruther was compelled to disqualify himself from the case for “ethical” reasons – but handpicked his personal friend and colleague Assistant State Attorney Cynthia Ross to now continue pursuing the execution of Lambrix.
With the evidence and motive now revealed, exposing this deliberate conspiracy and collaboration to, by intent and design, have Lambrix wrongfully convicted and condemned to death additional evidence recently disclosed now also shows that the state attorney’s office had concealed an “immunity deal” made with the key witness Smith that protected her from prosecution for felony charges pending against her.
Even with this overwhelming evidence now substantiated Lambrix’s long pled claims of innocence the state remains unwilling to concede any error. Rather than allow justice to finally prevail, the local state attorney’s office is now assisted by one of Florida’s most experience capital appellate litigator, Florida’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General Carol Dittmar. Unable to any longer credibly challenge the validity of the collective evidence, both the state agents and the lower trial court are engaging in a campaign to disingenuously drag this case out and prevent full exposure of this unconscionable injustice. In July 2006 the state offered Lambrix a substantial reduction of sentence if Lambrix would drop all further appeals – Lambrix refused. How much longer must Lambrix suffer this injustice?
What Can You Do?
There is a systematic pattern of morally and ethically corrupt prosecutors pathologically targeting the poor and underprivileged of our society, maliciously manipulating the judicial system to intentionally convict and condemn innocent men and women, then exploiting the resources of the state to perpetuate the already inconceivable injustice. Can we continue to deny that this insidious epidemic of injustice represents a contemporary form of malignant socio-economical discrimination and our refusal to recognize and eradicate this cancerous plague of bigotry and injustice from our society is as equally immoral as if we were personally participating in the lynching of the innocent ourselves?
In confronting the moral corruption of bigotry and injustice Abraham Lincoln once said, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Until society itself starts to demand accountability this contemptuous corruption of injustice will continue as morally and ethically corrupt prosecutors empower themselves as state sanctioned serial killers.
Only by committing ourselves to standing up to fight individual injustices can the integrity of justice itself prevail. The Lambrix case is only one of too many examples of inconceivable injustices being perpetuated against those incapable of defending against the overwhelming resources of the state.
In the late 1980’s there was a similar case from the same small area, that of James Richardson. He was convicted and sentenced to death for allegedly poisoning all his children to collect the insurance money but had his sentence reduced to life. While in prison he gathered support that led to Governor Martinez appointing Janet Reno who was then a state attorney in Miami, to conduct an independent investigation that resulted in her finding the case was corrupted by fabricated circumstantial evidence. This led to Richardson’s eventual release. Please help us push for a similar independent investigation and fair review of the Lambrix case by writing or emailing the Governor (Charlie Crist) and the Attorney General (Bill McCollum) of Florida to request the appointment of an objective special investigator like Governor Martinez did in the Richardson case. You can make a difference in compelling productive change by joining a grass roots drive to push for justice, to publicly expose these injustices and compel politicians and public officials to conduct investigations into corrupt prosecutors and hold them accountable.
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