For more than a quarter of a century Cary Michael Lambrix has been on Florida’s “death row” consistently pleading his innocence to anyone who would listen; very few do. Claims of innocence by those condemned to death certainly are not uncommon. Too often these claims are easily discredited ~ what does a condemned man have to lose by shouting “I’m innocent” in the face of execution? How do we separate legitimate claims of innocence from those without merit?
The greater tragedy is that we have become skeptical of any claim of innocence; like the children’s tale “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” we’ve heard it so often that we no longer even listen. The wolf is real ~ only in recent years has the indisputable science of DNA testing proven beyond any doubt that the number of innocent people wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death is substantially higher than anyone dared to imagine. However, the cases in which DNA evidence can conclusively establish innocence are actually only a fraction of the cases of actual innocence.
What we do know is this… in recent years since the death penalty was reinstated following the landmark Furman v. Georgia decision in 1972, at least 139 men and women have been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death only to be subsequently exonerated and released. Of these over 139 victims of miscarriage of justice, less than 10 were actually exonerated by use of DNA evidence.
The vast majority of wrongful convictions do not have any forensic or DNA evidence available to prove or disprove a claim of innocence. Most of the capital cases resulting in wrongful conviction actually had very little evidence to begin with and the leading cause of wrongful convictions is actually prosecutorial misconduct ~ political ambitions; overzealous prosecutors who will do whatever it takes to win a conviction my any means necessary as prosecutors don’t win promotions or build careers by losing at trial.
Worse yet, prosecutors have nothing to lose by breaking the rules and they will never admit they were wrong regardless of how conclusive the evidence of innocence might be. In September of 2010 the USA Today Newspaper did a special report on “Justice in the Balance,” (Sept. 23, 2010) in which the provided a comprehensive look into prosecutional misconduct and found that despite a widespread epidemic of misconduct, even when evidence established that a prosecutor knowingly sent am innocent man to prison, not only is the offending prosecutor completely immune from being held accountable; more often than not they are actually promoted after being exposed. (“Prosecuting Offices’ Immunity Tested,” USA Today, Oct. 6, 2010)
The recent USA Today special report reached inescapable conclusions consistent with numerous other credible studies. Such as the comprehensive Columbia Law School study of all capital cases from 1973 to 1996 entitled, “A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases,” which concluded that 68% of capital convictions were found to be the product of “serious, reversible constitutional error,” and a subsequent follow-up study entitled, “A Broken System: Why There is So Much Error in Capital Cases” concluded that overzealous prosecution accounted for the majority of wrongful convictions ~ and that there was a distinct pattern showing that the rates of prosectional misconduct resulting in sending innocent people to death row were primarily clustered in small southern counties.
Worse yet out courts are extremely reluctant to throw out a capital conviction based upon newly discovered evidence of innocent after the years have rolled by regardless of how strong that evidence substantiating innocence might be. Increasingly, some of the highest ranking judges are publicly declaring that because of the political backlash against the courts if they over- turn a capital conviction, there is no doubt that the courts are allowing innocent people to put to death. In a July 2001 article published by the St Petersburg Times titled “Justice has doubts about death penalty” retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner publicly admitted that, “The system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed.” In December of 1998, The Gainesville Sun published an article titled “Justice Questions Guilt of Executed,” in which former Florida Chief Justice Gerald Kogan declares that there is “absolutely no doubt in his mind” that the State of Florida had already put innocent people to death.
Florida by far leads the country in the number of wrongful convictions resulting in innocent men and women being sent to death row. The Death Penalty Information Center details the well over 139 cases in which men and women were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death only to be subsequently proven to be innocent, exonerated, and released ~ Florida alone accounts for almost 25% of these cases.
With almost 4000 men and women still warehoused on death rows across the county, the vast majority still pursuing appellate review, there can be no question that more innocent people remain on death row today. With rare exception, the wrongfully convicted depend upon the very state that sent them to death row to provide the legal representation necessary to prove their innocence ~ studies have consistently shown that politicians responsible for providing the funding necessary for representation of the condemned have refused to adequately fund these capital post conviction representation programs.
This page is under construction and incomplete April 2011