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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Florida: Death Row Inmate Mike Lambrix Loses Appeal, Opens Door For Execution

Mike Lambrix
Mike Lambrix
Death Row inmate Mike Lambrix has lost his appeal for a new sentence.

Lambrix was one of the subjects in the WLRN documentary Cell 1, where we looked at Florida’s death penalty and the limbo it was in for more than a year.

In 1984, at his second trial, Lambrix was convicted of murdering two people in Glades County, Florida. He was sentenced to death for strangling a woman and hitting her boyfriend in the head with a tire iron.

Lambrix was next in line to be executed when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in Hurst v. Florida in January, 2016, striking down the process Florida used to sentence people to death. Since then, Lambrix has not known where he stood.

The Hurst decision prompted two major questions: 1) how should the opinion affect inmates who were sentenced under the old, unconstitutional system and 2) what rules should govern how new cases should move forward.

The combination of a court decision in February and new legislation that is close to passing in the Florida Legislature will shore up that second question.

An answer to the first question came out in December essentially giving inmates who were sentenced to death after the summer of 2002 another chance at being resentenced. Those before, do not.

Lambrix’s case fell into the pre-2002 category, but because of a pending appeal, he was not automatically lumped in with other inmates until Thursday’s decision.

The 33-year resident of death row will have 15 days to file an appeal, but success is unlikely.

At that point, now that the court has lifted the stay on his death warrant, Lambrix could find himself with a new execution date if Governor Rick Scott sets one. Scott has overseen more executions than any other Florida governor since LeRoy Collins, who left office in 1961.

“I feel terrible for him, I think he deserves relief,” said Craig Trochino a lawyer who worked on Lambrix’s case years ago. “I think he deserves a life sentence or at very minimum, a new sentencing phase given the fact that it was not a unanimous jury on the sentencing.”

Lambrix does not deny he was involved with the deaths he was convicted of, but rejects the prosecution’s narrative. Lambrix says he hit the guy in the head to stop him from strangling the woman, whom Lambrix says he didn’t touch.

The prosecution connected the deaths to Lambrix based on witness testimony. A woman Lambrix was hanging out with that night was arrested later and offered her testimony. She later said she had had an affair with the prosecution’s lead investigator; an allegation he denies and the court threw out.

Lambrix says prosecutors offered him a plea deal back then, if he had taken it, he would have walked free years ago. Since then, Lambrix has been trying to get the courts to re-hear evidence in his case.

That looks increasingly unlikely.

Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court has begun the process of determining which inmates will have their death sentences vacated and have the opportunity to go through a new sentencing phase with new new standard of unanimous juries. Thursday, the courts granted two more death row inmates that chance.

Source: wlrn.org, Wilson Sayre, March 9, 2017

⏩ Related content: Florida: The inmate in Cell 1, January 19, 2017

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