Updated 4:17 p.m.: The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an indefinite stay of execution for Cary Michael Lambrix, who had been scheduled to die Feb. 11.
The order came hours after the court heard oral arguments that focused on the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this month that struck down the state’s death-penalty sentencing system.
Original report: Oral arguments began Tuesday morning for Florida’s first death penalty case since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty system unconstitutional in mid-January.
Florida’s Supreme Court justices heard arguments for whether they should grant Cary Lambrix, a man scheduled to die Feb. 11, a stay of execution until it can be determined how to apply the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The judge’s decision is expected to arrive at any time before Feb. 11.
Lambrix’s defense team, including attorney Martin J. McClain, quickly addressed the issue of retroactivity, which is when a law or court decision affects already existing rights.
In this case, it would determine whether the state would issue him a stay of execution or life in prison in lieu of the death penalty on the basis on Florida’s unconstitutional death penalty system.
The U.S. Supreme Court found Florida’s law flawed because it allows judges to decide on death sentences and override a jury’s recommendation.
Lambrix murdered two people — Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant — in 1983 near LaBelle in Southwest Florida and was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder. The jury recommended the death sentence by votes of 10-2, for Moore, and 8-4, for Bryant.
McClain argued for the court to think of the U.S. Supreme Court case as retroactive. He also argued for the court to delay the execution and grant Lambrix a life imprisonment sentence on the ground of insufficient aggravating circumstances.
Florida’s “statute is different,” McClain said. “Our statute says there has to be sufficient aggravating circumstances. The purposes of aggravating circumstances are too narrow to ensure that it’s the worst of the worst.”
Scott A. Browne, a prosecutor for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling does not apply retroactively and wants Lambrix executed on Feb. 11.
The Supreme Court case “is not retroactive,” he said. “It’s procedural.”
Florida Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis questioned the validity of that statement.
“But at the same time, there’s got to be something to the law that is beyond just technicalities,” he said. “A man who is executed today, but one comes up tomorrow that is not, there’s really no difference in their cases.”
“I’m struggling with word games,” Lewis added. “I appreciate all those things, I understand the differences, but doesn’t there come a point in time where one has to look at this and say, ‘What are we doing?'”
William Hennis, another attorney for Lambrix, said he hoped the court issued a stay of execution instead of a complete decision.
“That will allow us to go to state court, circuit court in Glades County,” he said.
Hennis said he’ll head back to Starke, Florida, to see Lambrix and discuss the case.
“Obviously, he’ll be interested in hearing how the argument went,” he said. “We’ll obviously wait for a decision from the Florida Supreme Court as to going to the United States Supreme Court. I’m hoping that a stay will be entered.”
Bondi hasn’t yet issued a statement on the case.