Condemned man's appeals coming to end

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals today rejected one of the last appeals attempts by a man set to die Friday for the execution-style shooting death of a Muncie police officer in 1990.

A five-page unanimous decision by the three-judge panel in the federal appeals court in Chicago rejected Michael Allen Lambert's claims for relief in Lambert v. Edwin G. Buss, Nos. 03-1015 and 05-2610. The ruling upholds the judgment by U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney in Indianapolis.

In its opinion, the panel wrote per curiam that only the Supreme Court of the United States has the power to make a decision on Lambert's behalf, as previous attempts and rulings have nearly exhausted his relief possibilities.

While Lambert's requests are to file successive petitions for habeas relief under the federal Constitution, they are "actually masquerading as motions to recall mandates. While we certainly do not fault Mr. Lambert for leaving no stone unturned in his effort to stave off his execution, the relief he seeks is quite extraordinary."

The court can recall mandates but will only do so in extraordinary circumstances, it wrote. This case doesn't present those circumstances, according to the court.

"Any further relief must come from the (U.S.) Supreme Court," Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple wrote in his concurrence.

Lambert's attorneys have filed a petition with SCOTUS to block the execution, but the high court hasn't ruled on that. In the petition, one issue cited is how at least two Indiana Supreme Court justices have disagreed on the imposition of death sentences, even during Lambert's appeals calling it "constitutionally infirm under both State and Federal constitutions."

When the Indiana Supreme Court denied post-conviction relief in May, Justices Theodore Boehm and Robert D. Rucker both dissented. Justice Boehm cited his dissent from Lambert's previous appeal in 2005 that said, "Without an error-free penalty phase, the death sentence could not stand under the current Indiana statute, and a new penalty phase was required."

Aside from court appeals, Gov. Mitch Daniels also has the authority to halt the execution despite a recommendation from the state parole board last week to deny clemency.

If Lambert is executed Friday as scheduled, he will be the second person put to death by lethal injection this year. David Leon Woods was executed in May for the 1984 killing of a 77-year-old neighbor in Fort Wayne. The January execution of Norman Timberlake was temporarily halted while the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a similar case. A ruling on that is expected later this year.

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