TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A South Florida judge declared the state's new death penalty law unconstitutional earlier this week while the fate of everyone on death row is being considered by the Florida Supreme Court.
While the ultimate penalty in Florida remains uncertain, some inmates would rather die than eat poor food and get bad medical care for decades.
Michael Lambrix admits to killing one person in self defense. He is a high school dropout who originally went to prison for passing bad checks in Tampa. He was convicted of a double homicide in Glades County on the testimony of a girlfriend who was sleeping with the prosecutor's investigator.
Lambrix has spent most of his adult life on death row. He was next in line to be executed when the U.S. Supreme Court said Florida's death penalty was ruled unconstitutional. Lambrix said many, not most, but many of those on death row would like to stay there.
“One of the big elements weighing heavily on these guys on death row who are saying, 'I don't want a life sentence,' is because they see people growing old in prison," Lambrix said. "They see the kind of medical care we get around here."
But after coming within days of being executed, Lambrix said he is not one of those who wants to die.
“I don’t want to grow old like that, but the alternative is to die," he said. "I can’t keep trying to prove my innocence if I am dead.”
Most prisoners claim innocence. With Lambrix, it has been a constant since 1983 when he was first charged and offered a plea deal that would have set him free more than a decade ago.
"I would have gotten a sentence of 17 to 22 years," Lambrix said. "I would have been out many years ago, but I wasn’t going to plea to something I didn’t do.”
As recently as last week, the state was saying that most of the 390 death row inmates should still be executed.
If Florida justices agree with the state, the final say over who lives and who dies will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court.
"(What would it be like) to walk out into the free world? I think about it every day," Lambrix said.