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Monday, March 04, 2024

From death row: the hope for freedom as a local inmate reaches out

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Cary Michael Lambrix dreams of nature.

He can practically see the Pacific Ocean, a sun setting in the background.

Before long, Lambrix is sleeping under a starry sky before waking to the smell of an early-morning campfire.

Churning water and burning timber then morph to confining walls and a ticking clock.  

In reality, Lambrix has been inmate 482053 for the past almost 32 years in Florida State Prison, about 30 miles north of Gainesville.

“But the dreams do get your head out of this place,” Lambrix wrote in a letter to the Alligator.

He was sentenced to die Feb. 11 after a judge found him guilty of a double homicide.

Exactly one month before his scheduled execution, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty unconstitutional.

As the state Legislature scrambles to make reforms, the 55-year-old now lives one day at a time.

“Don’t look forward and don’t look past,” he wrote.

•   •   •

Lambrix was born into a jagged childhood on March 29, 1960.

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In a hospital in San Francisco, his 24-year-old mother gave birth to the fourth of seven children. 

He remembers hiding as his mother and father argued until eventually getting a divorce.

“Then mom was gone, and I remained alone with the father I feared, especially when he was drunk — and it seemed he was always drunk,” Lambrix wrote on his blog, Death Row Journals, on Feb. 17, 2009.

At the age of 10, Lambrix lost his older sister — his protector — when she ran away.

When he turned 16, drugs and alcohol began to fill the void, and they did so for years.

“With nothing to hold me back, I lived in bars and lounges, selling drugs and consuming the profits,” he wrote on his blog.

•   •   •

It started with dinner.

On Feb. 5, 1983, Lambrix and his roommate, Frances Smith, invited a couple to eat in a LaBelle, Florida, trailer after meeting them at a bar.

Aleisha Bryant, 19, waited in the trailer for 20 minutes after Lambrix asked her friend, Clarence Moore, 35, to step outside, according to a case report. Lambrix then beckoned for Bryant. Less than 45 minutes later, Lambrix returned, wielding a tire iron and wearing a bloody shirt, according to the report.

Bryant had been strangled, and Moore had suffered a fatal blow to the head. Lambrix told Smith, who then helped bury the bodies, according to the report. They threw his shirt and weapon in a nearby stream.

About a year later, police charged Smith for an unrelated incident, and she told them about killing the couple, according to the report. Lambrix was already in jail for passing fraudulent checks, and after his first trial ended in a hung jury, the second trial convicted him of murder, he wrote.

Later that night, he braided a sheet, hung it from the cell bars and weighed his options before falling asleep. When he awoke, the sheet still dangled from the bars.

“Sometimes I still regret not following through. But I’m over it,” he wrote.

Though he still maintains innocence, Lambrix wrote he thinks about Bryant and Moore’s families, along with his desire to be forgiven.

In his book, “To Live and Die on Death Row,” Lambrix recounted his version of the Saturday two people lost their lives.

He wrote that Moore strangled and killed Bryant, so he picked up the tire iron and killed Moore in self-defense.

“No, I don’t ‘think’ I’m innocent — I know that I am innocent of any crime of murder and anyone capable of objective review of the evidence will agree,” he wrote in the letter.

•   •   •

What do Ted Bundy and Michael Lambrix have in common?

They both have pleasant faces, eloquent vocabularies and plausible stores, said George Dekle, who helped put serial killer Bundy in jail. However, neither is innocent, he said.

“It’s a whole lot easier to establish someone’s innocence on a website than it is in a courtroom,” said Dekle, a criminal prosecutor for nearly 30 years.

Lambrix could not have acted in self defense, he said, because one hit from a tire iron would have left Moore unconscious rather than dead.

Amid the accusations, Lambrix remains hopeful as the Florida Legislature rewrites the state’s death penalty laws.

He dreams of freedom, the open road and the ocean.

“You live in that moment and do what it takes to get your head out of this place the best you can,” he wrote.

Contact Martin Vassolo at mvassolo@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @martindvassolo

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