Florida Supreme Court blocks scheduled execution
The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a stay of execution to a death row inmate, adding new uncertainty to the future of capital punishment in the nation's third-largest state.
Without explanation, six justices issued a brief statement blocking the scheduled Feb. 11 execution of Michael Lambrix "pending further order of this court." The justices denied a motion by Lambrix's attorney to move the case back to the trial court for a full evidentiary hearing.
Lambrix has spent more than half his life on death row for the murders of two people in Glades County more than three decades ago. But the state's highest court agreed to review his case because of the possible impact of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12 that struck down Florida's death penalty sentencing law as unconstitutional. In an 8-1 decision, the nation's highest court said Florida's sentencing system violates a defendant's right to a trial by jury because the jury's role is advisory and the trial judge makes the key fact-finding decisions.
A legal question is whether the Hurst decision can now be applied retroactively to Lambrix's case -- and possibly to hundreds more people, some of them inmates on death row and others in the legal pipeline.
"To execute people in Florida on the basis of a statute that has been declared unconstitutional is just wrong," Lambrix's lawyer, Martin McClain, told justices as he urged them to reduce Lambrix's sentence to life without parole.
Tuesday's stay of execution was a legal setback for Attorney General Pam Bondi, who on behalf of the state urged that Lambrix's petition be denied and that executions continue in Florida.