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Florida Supreme Court refuses to halt next scheduled execution

Cary Michael Lambrix is scheduled to die Feb. 11 for two murders.
Cary Michael Lambrix is scheduled to die Feb. 11 for two murders.
Published Jan. 16, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's Supreme Court on Friday refused to delay an execution set for February but will consider the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the state's death sentencing system as unconstitutional.

A critical question is how the ruling by the nation's high court on Tuesday will affect the 390 people on Florida's death row.

The state has identified 43 death row inmates whose first appeal of their guilt is still pending. Their lawyers could file challenges based on the Hurst vs. Florida decision that could result in reviews of their convictions and possible new trials.

Most were sentenced in the past five years. Five of those 43 cases are from Miami-Dade County, four are from Hillsborough County, and two are from Pinellas County.

The state court Friday denied a request from Cary Michael Lambrix, who has spent 31 years on death row for two murders in Glades County. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection Feb. 11.

Lambrix's lawyers sought to delay his execution indefinitely because of the Hurst decision, where eight of the nine justices said the Florida system, in which juries play an advisory role and judges make all findings of fact in death cases, violates the U.S. Constitution's right to a trial by jury.

But even as the state's high court refused to delay Lambrix's execution, it agreed to hear oral arguments Feb. 2 on a key question of whether the Hurst case can be applied retroactively.

Lambrix's lawyers say it can. The state says it can't.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, in papers filed Friday, argued that the Hurst ruling is not applicable to Lambrix's case because he was convicted before a 2002 case, Ring vs. Arizona, that formed part of the legal basis for the Hurst ruling.

Bondi said that if the Hurst decision is applied retroactively in Florida, it would have a "severe and unsettling impact" on the state's justice system.

Lambrix, 55, was convicted of killing Aleisha Bryant and Clarence Moore in LaBelle in 1983. He was originally scheduled to be executed in 1988, but the Florida Supreme Court stayed the execution, which was lifted by a federal judge in 1992.

Lambrix has filed post-conviction motions seven times to delay his execution, which the state calls "piecemeal and dilatory" delay tactics.

"There were no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence identifying Lambrix as a killer, and no confession by Lambrix," his lawyers wrote in Monday's request for oral arguments.

At the Capitol next week, legislators will begin a review of the death penalty sentencing system and likely changes to comply with the Hurst decision, so as to not end the use of capital punishment, which has broad political support in Tallahassee.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, is one of a number of lawmakers who also want to change the law to require that any jury recommendation of death be unanimous. Florida is one of three states that do not require that all 12 jurors agree on a death sentence, and the Hurst ruling means that future juries will have more influence over a murder defendant's fate than they do now.

Times/Herald staff writer Michael Auslen contributed to this report, which also contains information from the News Service of Florida.