Florida death penalty in turmoil after indefinite stay

- Hours after the state supreme court indefinitely stayed the execution of death row inmate Michael Lambrix, House lawmakers wrote a fix to Florida's unconstitutional death penalty system.

The court admitted it is struggling with how to interpret a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Florida's sentencing guidelines give too much power to judges, and not enough to juries during the sentencing phase in capital cases.

The question becomes should the ruling apply to 390 inmates currently on Florida's death row?

"We hope that the court is going to take its time and thoroughly examine all of the issues," said Rex Demmig, the public defender for the 10th Judician Circuit covering Polk County.

Nine days before his execution, Michael Lambrix, who killed two people in Glades county in 1983, won an indefinite stay, after state supreme court justices heard hours of arguments.

"There is a legal debate going on right now as to whether or not this decision affects the people who were sentenced under the very law the Supreme Court says is unconstitutional," said FOX 13 legal analyst Jeff Brown.

If it's retroactive, Brown says reopening the sentencing phase of each case would be tremendously difficult, expensive and painful for victims' families.

"If you are going to go back now, and take 390 cases, and try to re-litigate the death portion of those cases, you're opening all of the wounds," said Brown. "You're almost making it worse for people who had some closure."

However, pending cases are also in flux.

On Tuesday in Manatee County, lawyers for accused killer Andres Avalos argued in a pre-trial hearing the state shouldn't even be allowed to seek the death penalty against Avalos until the state legislature writes a new law.

"Let's be clear about one thing," said Brown, "they are going to keep the death penalty in Florida."

Public defenders say the only feasible option is re-writing the law for future cases, and to give life to those already condemned to die.

"Commute the death sentences of people currently serving on death row, to life with no possibility of parole, they're going to die in prison, lets just let nature take its course."

Lawyers for the state argued that the US Supreme Court decision should only apply to pending cases, that those already sentenced should remain because those happened before this court ruling.

A House subcommittee took a first step Tuesday by approving a first draft of a law that would give much more power to juries.

Under the proposal, after a unanimous decision that the case includes aggravating factors, a jury would have to include nine members who agree to the death penalty.

Their colleagues in the senate are also working for a fix.

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