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Florida Delays Execution Until Supreme Court Ruling Is Applied

Cary Michael Lambrix, convicted of the 1983 killings of two people, was scheduled to die by lethal injection in Florida on Feb. 11.

But on Jan. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state's process for imposing the death penalty, and now the state Supreme Court has delayed Lambrix's execution until the courts can determine how to apply the high court's ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling stems from the case of Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of the 1998 murder of a co-worker at a restaurant in Pensacola. He was found guilty, but the judge — not the jury — was responsible for the "fact finding" that resulted in his death sentence. According to the Sixth Amendment, a jury must find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death, not a judge.

As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the way state judges handed out death sentences was unconstitutional. Now, NPR's Greg Allen reports, the state Supreme Court justices will have to decide whether the Hurst decision should be applied retroactively to 388 other people currently on Florida's death row, including Lambrix.

O.H. Eaton, a retired Florida circuit judge who is an expert on the death penalty, told Greg that applying the ruling to past cases won't necessarily result in new sentencing hearings for all convicts on Florida's death row.

"Because a lot of these cases are very old," Eaton said. "So I would suspect if there is going to be retroactive application, it's going to be reducing cases from death to life in prison."

The state, however, does not want the decision to be applied retroactively.

According to The Associated Press, Scott Browne of the Florida attorney general's office said the ruling should not apply to already decided cases and argued for the state to execute Lambrix on schedule.

Florida's nearly 400 prisoners on death row are the highest number in any state except California. It's not clear how many executions could be delayed.

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