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Case Update May 2008 - Southern Injustice

Case Update May 2008

In November, 2007 Judge R. Thomas Corbin (20th Circuit Court, Ft. Myers, Fla.) issued a “final order” denying relief on all 8 claims raised before the court. The majority of these claims argued that “newly discovered” evidence collectively substantiates that Mr. Lambrix was the victim of a deliberate conspiracy and collaboration between the state attorney’s office and their “key witness” Frances Smith-Ottinger, in that together the parties deliberately manipulated and fabricated the wholly circumstantial evidence with the intent to have Lambrix wrongfully convicted and condemned to death.

Numerous evidentiary hearings were held before the lower state court. In a cursory “final order” Judge R. Thomas Corbin denied relief on each of the 8 claims raised. No “procedural bars” were found to attach to any of the pled claims. Each of these claims is summarized below, in the order that they will tentatively be raised on appeal.

A timely notice of appeal was filed in December 2007. Subsequently, the Florida Supreme Court has ordered the compilation of the complete record, with all the transcripts of proceedings before the lower court, to be filed with them.

This case is now presently docketed in the Florida Supreme Court as Lambrix v. State, Fla. S. Ct. #SC08-64. All activity on this case can easily be tracked as the Florida Supreme Court maintains its own website that posts the complete docket record, and will subsequently post the complete appeal briefs.

At present the Florida Supreme Court has not issued a “briefing schedule,” but it is anticipated that now that the complete “record on appeal” has been filed with the court that the court will soon order a “briefings schedule.”

However, Lambrix has recently been compelled to terminate representation by the state funded agency “Capital Collateral Regional Counsel – south” due to an irreconcilable “conflict of interest.” In a motion now filed with the Florida Supreme Court Lambrix has advised the court that “CCRC-South counsel had, and continued to, act contrary to his interests resulting in an irreconcilable “conflict” requiring their immediate discharge. Lambrix has requested appointment of substitute counsel, but would prefer to find qualified “pro- bono” counsel willing to aggressively argue his “actual innocence” appeal.

If you are a qualified lawyer with experience in arguing capital post conviction appeals before a state court (Florida Supreme Court) and would be interested in providing representation, please write to Lambrix at:

Michael R. Lambrix #482053
Union Correctional Institution
7819 NW 228th Street
Raiford, FL 32026-4450

The following is a summary of the claims that are preserved for review and will be raised in the appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

Claim I. The state knowingly withheld material exculpatory and/or impeachment evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, undermining confidence in the verdicts and rendering the convictions unreliable, entitling Mr. Lambrix to a new trial.

This is the primary claim to be raised. And arguably will be dispositive to the entire appeal. There are two parts to this claim. Part A argues that the state knowingly concealed material exculpatory and/or impeachment evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland. Part B argues that the state knowingly violated Giglio v. United States when the state allowed its key witness to falsely testify that she was provided no favorable treatment for testifying. The following is a more detailed summary of each part of this primary claim.

Part A: From the time Lambrix was charged and indicted, Lambrix has consistently insisted that the “key witness” and the State Attorney’s Office were deliberately fabricating the wholly circumstantial evidence and theory of premeditated murder, but was unable to produce any motive or evidence to support this claim of conspiracy to wrongfully convict.

In early 2004 Lambrix’s counsel was investigating newly discovered evidence regarding the recantation of material witness Deborah Hanzel (claim III, below) when they received information from key witness Smith-Ottinger’s recently divorced husband that Smith-Ottinger had bragged about being “protected” by the state attorney’s office because of an “affair” she had with a state attorney’s investigator.

Subsequently, in April 2004 Smith-Ottinger was compelled to appear before the court, and while under oath admitted that she did, in fact, have an “affair” with the state attorney’s lead investigator Miles Robert (“Bob”) Daniels during the prosecution of the Lambrix case. Although Investigator Daniels denied having any sexual relationship with Smith-Ottinger, additional evidence was developed and presented to discredit his denial.

Lambrix has argued that the state’s failure to disclose the relationship between Smith-Ottinger and Investigator Daniels substantially prejudiced his ability to defend against the capital charges. With no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions, the entire case was based upon Smith-Ottinger’s claim that Lambrix told her he killed the deceased. Her testimony was supported by Deborah Hanzel (see below, claim III) and Inv. Daniels. In fact, Investigator Daniels was the very same person who signed the arrest affidavit formally initiating these charges against Lambrix, and it was Daniels who personally supervised the development of the entire wholly circumstantial case.

Had the jury known that Smith-Ottinger and Inv. Daniels were having a personal relationship “of a sexual nature” during the prosecution of this case, the credibility of both the witnesses would have been effectively challenged and impeached. The failure to disclose this crucial impeachment evidence violated Brady v. Maryland. In all similar capital cases, the Florida Supreme Court has consistently vacated the convictions See, Floyd v. State, 902 So. 2d 775 (Fla. 2005); Mordenti v. State, 894 So. 2d 161 (Fla. 2004); Cardona v. State, 826 So. 2d 968 (Fla. 2002); Rogers v. State, 782 So. 2d 373 (Fla. 2001), ect.

Part B: During the course of conducting court ordered depositions of several members of the state attorney’s office, in 2006 it was revealed for the first time that key witness Smith-Ottinger was given a deal of immunity in exchange for her testimony against Lambrix. At trial, Smith-Ottinger specifically denied being granted any deals or special favors for her cooperation. This “newly discovered evidence” supports that the state did knowingly conceal material evidence, did knowingly allow its key witness to falsely testify as to a material fact, and that Lambrix was substantially prejudiced. In that by the states own admission, the entire case was dependent upon the credibility of Smith-Ottinger. Had this information of favorable treatment been disclosed as required by law, it would have been used to impeach Smith-Ottinger’s credibility. Pursuant to Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972) and Guzman v. State, 868 So, 2d 498 (Fla. 2003) relief must be granted.

Claim II Lambrix has provided newly discovered evidence that the state attorney’s office and key witness Smith-Ottinger did knowingly conspire and collaborate together to maliciously fabricate crucial circumstantial evidence with the intent and purpose of having Mr. Lambrix wrongfully convicted and condemned to death.

From the time Lambrix was arrested he has argued that the wholly circumstantial case and theory of capital “premeditated” murder was fabricated but how do you disprove a negative? At trial, prosecutor Randall McGruther even explicitly taunted the jury with the argument that Lambrix has shown no proof of any conspiracy to wrongfully convict him.

In 1998 former state witness Deborah Hanzel came forward and admitted that she lied at trial when she testified that Lambrix told he had killed “the people” to steal the car. Hanzel’s testimony was crucial, as this was the only evidence supporting Smith-Ottinger’s claim that Lambrix committed premeditated murder.

When an evidentiary hearing was provided in February 2004 Hanzel was even more explicit — under oath she claimed that Smith-Ottinger and Investigator Daniels worked together to coerce her to provide that crucial false testimony, (Please see the Hanzel testimony.) and that they knew that Lambrix actually acted in involuntary self-defense while trying to help Aleisha Bryant.

Although sufficient evidence supporting this claim has already been presented – and in fact the lower court has specifically found only evidence the state presented to dispute this claim (testimony of Smith-Ottinger) to be “not credible,” the lower court refused to allow Lambrix to present additional evidence in the from of numerous expert witnesses who collectively would have irrefutably proven this claim.

Thus, this claim will be argued in the court that, A.) the evidence already presented supports the finding that a conspiracy/collaboration to wrongfully convict Lambrix did exist and B.) if the court finds the evidence insufficient to support that an actual conspiracy/collaboration existed, the court must remand to the lower court with instructions that Lambrix be provided a full and fair opportunity to present additional evidence.

Claim III Lambrix has provided newly discovered evidence that material state witness Deborah Hanzel has unequivocally recanted her trial testimony undermining confidence in the verdicts and requiring a new trial.

At trial, the prosecutor explicitly instructed the jury that Smith-Ottinger was the “hub” of the case, and that her testimony would be supported by “other evidence.” The only other evidence supporting Smith-Ottinger’s claim that Lambrix admitted to killing the deceased with premeditated intent was Deborah Hanzel, who claimed that Lambrix also told her he committed the murders “to take the car.” Conveniently, at the time Hanzel was the girlfriend of Smith-Ottinger’s own cousin (by marriage) and telephone records substantiate that they had communicated numerous times prior to Hanzel coming forth.

In 1998 Hanzel admitted that her crucial trial testimony was false. At a subsequent evidentiary hearing before the lower state court in February 2004 Hanzel explicitly stated that she was coerced to falsely testify. (Please read, Hanzel’s affidavit.) Lambrix’s counsel also called the Verizon telephone records custodian who confirmed that Hanzel and Smith-Ottinger did repeatedly communicate. The state attempted to coerce Hanzel to not recant by threatening her with criminal prosecution, but Hanzel stood her ground.

Hanzel was not an accomplice or paid informant and the state presented no credible evidence to discredit her recantation. In that Hanzel’s testimony was crucial, material testimony, this unequivocal recantation undermines confidence in the verdicts, and requires that the convictions be vacated.

Claim IV Newly discovered evidence shows that Lambrix was denied a fair trial before an impartial tribunal as the evidence now reveals that the trial judge Richard Stanley failed to disclose substantial prejudice against capital defendants that if properly disclosed would have required Judge Stanley’s disqualification. Lambrix’s convictions must be vacated and a new trial granted.

After being arrested and indicted on these capital murder charges in Glades County, Florida in early 1983 the case was presided over by Judge James Adams, the circuit court judge assigned to cases in Glades and Hendry Counties. In December 1983 the case when to trial in Glades County with Judge Adams presiding. That jury trial ended in a “hung jury” when the jury announced they could not reach a verdict.

The local prosecutor Randall McGruther announced his intent to retry the case and a second trial was scheduled for February 1984. Lambrix was offered a “plea bargain” if he pled guilty the state would reduce the charges to second degree murder. Although under the then applicable statutory sentencing guidelines Lambrix would have only received a sentence if not more that 22 years, Lambrix refused to plea. (See, “Lambrix turns down deal for second degree,” Ft Myers News-Press, February 1984.)

On the morning of Lambrix’s second trial the original judge was inexplicitly replaced by Judge Richard Stanley, who was brought in from Charlotte County. Judge Stanley was a local career prosecutor prior to becoming a judge and had a reputation as being pro-prosecution. But without evidence of bias, there were no legal grounds to move for disqualification of Judge Stanley.

Nearly fifteen years later that evidence was developed when Glades County Clerk of Court Jerry Beck came forward in the capital case of Raleigh Porter and told of how Judge Stanley verbally expressed his prejudices against capital defendants. See, Porter v. Singletary, 49 F. 3d 1483 (11th Cir. 1995). Subsequently Judge Stanley was compelled to provide a sworn deposition in the Porter case at which time Judge Stanley admitted to his bias and stated that he always carried a sawed off “machine gun” while on the bench, and that is had it his way, he would shoot capital defendants “between the eyes.” Based on this evidence, the Florida Supreme Court threw out Porter’s death sentences. Porter v. State, 723 So. 2d 191 (Fla. 1998).

Lambrix now remains the only person still under a sentence if death imposed by Judge Stanley. However, the significant difference between the Porter case and Lambrix’s case is that in Porter Judge Stanley only presided over Porter’s re-sentencing, but in Lambrix’s case Judge Stanley presided over the entire trial. Lambrix has proffered evidence of how Judge Stanley’s newly revealed bias prejudiced his ability to have a fair trial, and is now arguing that the convictions must be vacated.

Claim V Lambrix has been denied his fundamental constitutional right to timely review of post conviction claims in violation of the Florida and federal due process clauses.

Lambrix initiated the now pending post conviction appeal in January 1998 when the “new evidence” was first discovered. The state and lower state court then systematically obstructed and denied timely review of the pled claims. Despite Lambrix’s efforts to compel timely review, it took almost five years before the lower court finally provided the first evidentiary hearing. Consistently the lower court deliberately procrastinated timely review providing only “piecemeal” hearings and taking on average over six (6) months between rulings.

Lambrix repeatedly attempted to compel timely review, even twice filing petitions with the Florida Supreme Court arguing that the lower court should be compelled to provide timely review. (See, “Petition for Writ of Certiorari.”) However, both the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Lambrix’s petition on the pled merits.

Lambrix will now argue that as in Jones v. State, 740 So. 2d 520 (Fla. 1999) Lambrix is automatically entitled to relief from the convictions. (In Jones, the capital conviction and death sentence were summarily vacated because the lower state court failed to provide timely review of post conviction appellate claims.)

Claim VI Lambrix is entitled to a new trial based upon the “Fundamental Miscarriage of Justice Doctrine.”

In House v. Bell, 126 S. Ct. 2064 (2006) the Supreme Court re-affirmed the “Fundamental Miscarriage of Justice Doctrine” previously articulated in Schulp v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298 (1995) and Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478 (1986), which holds that previously attached or otherwise applicable statutorily created “procedural bars” must be set aside when the petitioner presents new evidence sufficient to raise a “colorable claim of innocence,” as Lambrix has now done the above individual and collective claims of “newly discovered evidence.”

In prior appellate proceedings; see, Lambrix v. State, 698 So. 2d 247 (Fla. 1996) Lambrix had numerous substantiated claims “procedurally barred” because Lambrix’s original post conviction counsel failed to timely raise claims. These claims included that Lambrix’s original counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the sufficiency of evidence to support the convictions; that Lambrix was denied a trial before a fair and impartial jury; that Lambrix was unconstitutionally denied his fundamental right to testify at trial, etc. Individually and/or collectively; see, Gunsby v. State, 670 So. 2d 920 (Fla. 1994) (holding that the combined effect of errors warranted relief fro capital conviction absent the previously attached statutorily created procedural bar, Lambrix would have been entitled to relief from the wrongful capital convictions.

The Fundamental Miscarriage of Justice Doctrine now requires that all previously attached procedural bars be set aside, and all previously procedurally barred state claims be fully reviewed upon their pled merits; and that Lambrix’s instantly pled claims based upon newly discovered evidence be reviewed for “cumulative” error in conjunction with these previously procedurally barred claims. See, Swafford v. State, 679 So. 2d 736 (Fla. 1996): Gunsby v. State, 670 So. 2d 920 (Fla. 1994) (requiring court to review new evidence claims in conjunction with evidence introduced at trial and in prior post conviction proceedings.)

Claim VII Lambrix is entitled to have previously procedurally barred post conviction claims now reviewed upon their merits based upon the “due process” clause of the Florida and Federal Constitution.

(This claim has not yet been summarized, but will essentially argue that although both the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled tat no constitutional right to “effective” post conviction exists, under the Sixth Amendment, Florida has created an independent, constitutionally enforceable “due process” right to effective post conviction counsel, which requires that Lambrix be provided a full and fair opportunity to raise, and have reviewed upon the pled merits his previously procedurally barred post conviction claims.)