Imagine being convicted and condemned to death for the alleged crime of premeditated murder that simply never happened- a crime deliberately fabricated by an over zealous, politically ambitious State Prosecutor concerned more with manipulating a rural community's emotions into a vindictive passion to gain political popularity than objectively pursuing justice. Even then, when the first jury could not agree on any verdict, a subsequent retrial was held in the same small community, and to ensure a conviction would be rendered at any cost, the State substituted the original local judge with a judge from another county known for his exteme bias against capital murder defendants.
No, this isn't the outline of an imaginative Hollywood plot. It is the basis of the case against Cary Michael Lambrix in the state of Florida. This case begins in February 1983. At the time Mike Lambrix was 22 years old, living with a 31 year old woman by the name of Frances. They shared a rented mobile home located on a large ranch in rural Glades County, Florida. On the night of Saturday February 5, 1983, both Mike and Frances decided to go into the nearby town of LaBelle to have a few drinks at the Town Tavern. Shortly after arriving, a man introducing himself as ‘Chip' joined Mike and Frances. Had Mike and Frances known that ‘Chip' was a 35 year old ex-convict and known drug smuggler with a criminal history of physically assaulting women, undoubtedly they would have avoided him.
As the three conversed, a young local waitress by the name of Aleisha Bryant joined Chip as his date and the four decided to go to another lounge that featured dancing. For the rest of the evening and into the early morning hours the four continued drinking and dancing until ‘Squeaky's Lounge' closed. Chip had previously made plans to return to Miami and Aleisha had to work the early shift at LaBelle's Whites Restaurant, and so it was agreed the four would return to Mike and Frances's trailer to pass the few hours until Aleisha had to be at work and Chip would drop her off on his way out of town.
Once back at the trailer, Frances began to cook a late dinner of spaghetti while Mike, Chip and Aleisha congregated in the adjacent living room. Frances later insisted all three were laughing, teasing and playing around. The stereo was turned up loud, so she couldn't hear what was being said. As Frances continued cooking, Mike and Chip decided to go out to his car to retrieve some music tapes for the stereo as Aleisha stayed inside with Frances. It was now early Sunday morning, Feb 6th. There were no lights and so Frances insisted she could neither see or hear anything outside.
Once outside, their judgement obviously impaired by a night of heavy drinking, Mike and Chip concocted a plan to play a practical joke on Frances and Aleisha by going around the trailer and scratching at the kitchen window in an attempt to spook them. But, neither Frances or Aleisha heard the persistent scratching. Now determined to succeed, Mike and Chip came up with an alternative plan. Chip would hide at the nearby cattle feed trough while Mike went back inside and got the two women to come out and as they approached the trough, Chip would jump out. Once back inside, only Aleisha would venture out as Frances stayed inside to finish cooking. Almost an hour passed during which Frances claimed she neither saw or heard anything outside. Then Mike suddenly came back inside, ‘covered' with blood saying only ‘they're dead'. Frances said she repeatedly asked Mike what happened, but he wouldn't talk about it. Mike went into the bathroom and washed up and changed clothes, then he and Frances briefly discussed what to do, as Frances knew Mike had an arrest warrant outstanding from when he walked away from a state ‘Halfway House', where Mike was serving a sentence for a ‘bounced' check charge. It was mutually decided that they cold not call the Sheriff's Department as they would take Mike into custody. So, they decided to superficially conceal the two bodies, then abandon Chip's car far away and leave the area for good.
Several days later Frances was herself arrested on unrelated charges and gave numerous statements denying knowing Mike or her recent whereabouts. The police had no reason to suspect Mike of any "murder" and Frances made a point of not telling them anything about Chip or Aleisha. Then days later Frances bonded out of jail and with the assistance of her family, retained a private lawyer and after receiving legal advice, she went into the State Attorney's office in Tampa, Florida and told them that Mike had "forced" her to help conceal the two bodies and that she could show them where. When asked if she knew why Mike had allegedly killed Chip and Aleisha, she insisted repeatedly that she did not see or hear anything that transpired outside, and all she knew was that Mike and Chip went outside only to have Mike return alone 20 minutes later asking her and Aleisha to go outside. But, she stayed in while Aleisha went out with Mike and almost an hour later Mike came back alone, "covered" with blood and in apparent shock said only that "they're dead", then washed up and changed clothes and then "forced" her to assist in superficially concealing the two bodies at the back of a large pasture behind the trailer.
Based upon the information Frances provided, the local Sheriff's department and State Attorney's office recovered the bodies and issued an arrest warrant charging Mike with murder. Without knowing what might have actually happened outside between Mike, Chip and Aleisha, the local State Attorney (Randall McGruther) came up with a theory that Mike had deliberately ‘lured' this local couple to the remote trailer with the pre-meditated intention of robbing and killing each, even though there was virtually NO evidence to support this fabricated theory. In fact, when the bodies were recovered, both had jewelry, money and other personal effects on them. Neither was ‘robbed' of anything and Mike was never charged with robbery.
The fact that no evidence existed to support the theory of robbery is an important point. In Florida, as in many other states, if a person is killed during the commission of a robbery, then the perpetrator is charged with ‘Felony" murder and the State does not have to prove that the perpetrator actually intended to kill anyone. Rather, the State need only prove that a robbery occurred and the person charged committed the robbery and because of or during that robbery a person died- even if by a heart attack- and it's Capital Murder. But, since there was virtually no actual evidence that any robbery ever occurred, the state was prohibited from actually charging Mike with robbery and was obligated to prove the higher standard of actual premeditated intent to kill Chip and Aleisha.
By the time Mike was arrested several weeks later, the State Attorney's office had manipulated the local newspaper into working up the small community passions with this fabricated theory of cold blooded robbery and murder by an alleged "escaped convict", not bothering to point out Mike was not in prison, rather, he simply walked away from a State Halfway house. But it wasn't about truth....it was about gaining public support for a politically ambitious prosecutor.
Mike adamently refused to talk to the police or media, but Mike's version of what happened that night never changed, with Frances insisting that she neither saw or heard anything outside. Mike could provide an account of what had happened that resulted in their deaths.
As Mike stated, after he and Chip unsuccesssfully tried to playfully spook Frances and Aleisha by scratching at the trailer window, Mike went back inside to ask Frances and Aleisha out while Chip concealed himself at a nearby cattle trough. But, only Aleisha came out and Frances stayed inside to finish cooking as Mike and Aleisha walked around the back of the trailer towards the feed trough. Chip suddenly jumped out at her, successfully scaring Aleisha- which both Mike and Chip thought was very funny. But, Aleisha became very angry at both the stupidity of this intoxicated joke and the subsequent laughing at her expense and immediately began verbally assaulting Chip with a barrage of profanity, and the two began arguing amongst themselves. Mike, still assuming these two had an actual relationship, decided to let them work it out between them and slowly made his way back to the trailer, playing with his dog along the way.
It took a good ten minutes or better for Mike to make his way around the trailer perimeter fence and as he approached the trailer, Mike heard a quick scream coming from the pasture area where he left Chip and Aleisha. Unsure of this strange sound, Mike waited a moment and heard another more pronounced scream, clearly someone in trouble. Immediately Mike began back around the trailer towards the pasture. The property bordered the 200 square mile "Fishery Creek Wildlife Management Area" and a swampy "Bee Branch Creek", so snakes, wild animals and even an occasional alligator ventured into the pasture adjacent to the trailer. As Mike passed a car he had been working on earlier that day, he spontaneously grabbed the rod-type jack handle as protection.
As Mike went into the pasture area, he quickly discovered that Chip ane Aleisha were not at the feed trough where he had left them. It was early morning and no light so Mike was unable to see beyond a few feet. Mike's dog sensed the presence of something further back in the pasture and Mike cautiously began in that direction. As Mike approached the near pasture fence about 800 to 1000 feet behind the trailer, he began hearing a faint pounding sound and suddenly walked upon Chip straddling over Aleisha pinning her motionless on the ground beneath him as he continued physically assaulting her. Without stopping, Mike ordered Chip to let Aleisha go, but Chip refused and Mike forcibly pushed Chip off Aleisha, even though Chip was substantially larger than Mike. As Chip fell to the ground on the far side of Aleisha, he immediately sprung up at Mike who spontaneously swung the solid metal rod, hitting Chip in the head numerous times before realizing Chip was down. Then Mike dropped the jack handle and attempted to help Aleisha. She remained motionless, her clothes disarrayed. Mike assumed she was unconscious, picked her up and began going back to the trailer before having to lay her down. Still assuming she was unconscious from the assault inflicted by Chip, Mike attempted to mouth to mouth revive her to no avail. Realizing that she was dead, Mike returned to where he left Chip to check on him, but the blows had crushed his skull and he was obviously beyond help. Now in a state of surreal shock, Mike returned to the trailer and told Frances "they're dead". After he washed up and changed clothes, Mike and Frances mutually decided to superficially conceal the bodies and then abandon Chip's car away from the area.
The State attorney was not provided Mike's versions of events as a criminal defendant simply does not talk to the prosecuting attorney, nor did Mike provide the police with any statement, as by law any statement could be used against you. Towards the end of 1983, the State attempted to have Mike plea guilty to a lesser charge, but Mike insisted on his innocence to any act of murder and a trial date was scheduled to begin December 2, 1983.
On the first day of the scheduled trial, for reasons that to this date are still not clear, Mike was brought into the Judge's chambers, and, on record effectively ordered by the trial Judge that he would NOT be allowed to testify at the trial. Mike's appointed Public Defender felt that the State's wholly circumstantial case was so weak that the State could not prove any case beyond a reasonable doubt and so they approached the Judge and advised the Judge that they (Kentry Enguaison and Robert Jacobs) did not want Mike to testify and asked the Judge to instruct Mike that he could not testify. Judge Adams did as they requested, even though there is a clearly established legal right to testify on your own behalf.
As the trial progressed, Mike's Public Defender methodically broke down the State's fabricated theory of premeditated murder through cross examination of the State's own witnesses. The State claimed that Mike "lured" this couple back to his trailer to kill them, the motive being robbery, yet in truth Mike had no way of knowing that he would have by chance met them, and there clearly was no robbery. The State's key witness, Mike's ex-girlfriend Frances, testified that Mike went out first with Chip and then came back alone "looking normal" and took Aleisha out. Frances admitted she saw or heard nothing and the last time she saw them, they were "laughing, teasing and playing around" with each other with no indication of animosity between any of them.
More importantly, Frances was absolutely certain that Mike did NOT have any blood on him when he came back in a alone to get Aleisha to come out, but the State's own Medical Examiner concluded that substantial amounts of blood on Mike upon returning AFTER Aleisha went outside could only have come from Chip as Aleisha did not experience any physical trauma that would have caused significant bleeding. Thus, Chip HAD to have been alive outside when Aleisha went out, how could Mike have killed both at the same time, especially when both Chip and Aleisha were larger than Mike?
More importantly, the State's own Medical Examiner concluded that all the blows administered upon Chip were inflicted in a continuous swinging motion to the front temporal area of his head and there were no defensive wounds. The position of the wounds and absence of defensive wounds strongly implies that Chip had to be the aggressor, and entirely supports Mike's claim of self defense.
As for Aleisha Bryant, the Medical Examiner concluded death as "probable strangulation", even though the physical signs of trauma normally associated with strangulation were not found, such as haemorraging in the neck area and fracture of the larynx. But, more importantly, it was established that to inflict death by strangulation, substantial pressure had to be continuously applied for 3 to 5 minutes to render the victim unconscious. A 19 year old 185 pound woman simply is not going to passively stand by and be strangled to death without fighting for her life. For this reason it is a standard procedure to collect "fingernail scrapings" from such a victim and fingernail scrapings were undoubtedly collected in this case. But when Frances insisted that Mike had no bruises or scratches consistent with what Aleisha would have inflicted upon her assailant, and that Chip DID have such scratches, these fingernail scrapings conveniently disappeared from the State's evidence room.
No defense beyond establishing reasonable doubt was presented and without Mike being able to personally testify, his version of what actually transpired outside resulting in Chip's and Aleisha's death NEVER came out. The jury deliberated 11 continuous hours without being able to agree upon any verdict when the trial judge declared it a ‘Hung jury' and dismissed that jury, ordering a retrial.
The failure to convict Mike of the allegedly brutal murder became the feature story of the local newspaper. The retrial was ordered for February 1984 which was an election year and convicting Mike became a political priority. Knowing that its case was weak, the State again attempted to convince Mike to plea guilty to a reduced charge and lenient sentence, but Mike refused. Then just before the retrial began, the original Judge was removed and an extremely pro-prosecution Judge was brought in. Judge Stanley was previously a career prosecutor and known for his policy of always sentencing convicted murderers to death, even when a jury recommended life that particular year.
Judge Stanley's extreme bias quickly manifested itself at the retrial. Motion to move the trial out of Glades County because of the saturation of prejudicial pretrial media coverage was denied. As Judge Stanley presided over impaneling a jury, attempts to strike biased jurors were circumvented and the jury that tried the case included 4 jurists related to members of the small local sheriff's department, including the stepfather of a local deputy (Ralph Alan Green)who was actually under an FBI investigation at the time for allegedly attempting to physically beat a confession out of Mike at the County Jail a month earlier, requiring Mike to be hospitalized.
Judge Stanley then prohibited Mike's Public Defender from questioning Frances, the State's key witness on the numerous conflicting stories she gave to the police that directly contradicted her trial testimony, and refused to allow evidence of alcohol intoxication in, as such evidence could preclude capital murder by legally negating actual premeditation. Again Mike was not allowed to testify and no defense whatsoever was allowed. NOT surprisingly, it took the jury less than 2 hours to convict Mike of two counts of premeditated capital murder, and one juror was later heard to complain that the only reason it took that long was because they couldn't get the coffee pot to work right away.
On March 22, 1984, Mike was sentenced to death and sent to Florida's death row. The Judge then appointed a local ex-prosecutor to represent Mike on appeal, and ex former Chief Justice Alan Sundberg later testified on Mike's behalf: this pretense of an appeal was unquestionably the most incompetent appeal he had ever seen in a capital case. Having succeeded in preventing Mike from proving his actual innocence of murder at trial, the politically motivated Judge subsequently obstructed Mike's ability to prove his innocence on appeal, knowing that Mike's claim and evidence of self defense was not fully presented on appeal, it would be procedurally barred from review forever.
It's been 17 years now and Mike continues to languish on Florida's death row, convicted and condemned to death for a crime of murder FABRICATED by an over zealous prosecutor. There never was any eyewitnesses, any physical evidence or any confessions, nothing but a wholly circumstantial case. Justice remains to be served and you can help by writing to the Judges and State Governor and encouraging them to simply allow Mike a fair opportunity to be heard and the evidence fully considered. Without support, especially international support, Mike could very well be executed for a crime of premeditated murder that simply never took place. The objective evidence accumulated by the State's own Medical Examiner conclusively supports Mike's claim of what actually took place that night. But Mike's side of what happened has never been heard and there's something SERIOUSLY WRONG with any judicial system that prohibits the accused from telling the jury his side. Justice can NEVER be served when a criminal defendant is prohibited from defending against the government's accusations.
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For more information on Mike's case as well as samples of his essays, please visit his sister Mary's moving webpage and tribute.