We're conditioned by Hollywood to picture hit men as cool, efficient characters with fascinating quirks. In Get Shorty, for example, John Travolta played Chili Palmer, a Mafia killer working the streets of New York City and Miami. When he wasn't whacking someone, Palmer memorized films and plotted to become an LA producer.
Michael Allan Lamb might not have Chili Palmer's intelligence and ambition, but the real-life Southern California killer could teach Palmer a thing or two about poise. On July 10, when a jury convicted Lamb and pal Jacob Anthony Rump of the gang-ordered 2002 execution of Scott Miller and the subsequent attempted murder of a cop, the two defendants smiled and snorted at each other.
The Public Enemy Number One (PENI) Death Squad white supremacist wasn't done signaling his contempt for the system. On July 31, after less than three days of deliberations, that same seven-man, five-woman jury announced it had "hopelessly deadlocked" on whether Lamb deserved a one-way ticket to San Quentin State Prison's notorious "Death Row." Did the 33-year-old petty thief/drug dealer/hit man shout in joy? Nope. After smirking at his publicly supplied defense team, Lamb slowly raised his left hand, studied his fingernails and coldly glanced back at the murder victim's mother.
Before the odd ending to a sensational, often graphic trial steeped in Nazism, illicit drugs and violence, Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg asked the jury if there was "anything" the court could provide that might help resolve the deadlock. Without hesitating, the foreman replied, "No, sir." During a poll of jurors, all but one juror agreed with the sentiment.
According to the foreman, the final tally was six jurors for the death penalty, five for life in prison and one who couldn't decide. Minutes later, Froeberg thanked the exhausted-looking panel for their service and asked them to feel proud of their individual decisions. Before excusing them, the judge even suggested some might want to seek emotional counseling after almost three months on the case. One juror, a woman, nodded affirmatively.
Lamb, who is covered in pro-Nazi tattoos including swastikas, will remain a resident of the Orange County Jail for now. Ebrahim Baytieh has until an Aug. 21 hearing to announce if he'll call a new jury to hear the penalty phase. Most courthouse observers will be startled if he accepts the deadlock. During the case, Baytieh, one of the stars in the district attorney's office, described Lamb as a "coward," a "vicious . . . black-hearted killer" who "is pure evil."
On orders from PENI prison bosses, Lamb and Rump ambushed Miller in an Anaheim apartment-complex parking lot. The pair called themselves a "precision-tuned machine" in private correspondence with each other. In reality, they were slightly more mentally agile than the two men in Dumb & Dumber. After killing Miller, they went on a three-day methamphetamine binge and were caught in a stolen car with the murder weapon. At one point, Billy Joe Johnson, another PENI killer already in prison for decades, testified weakly that he killed Miller.
Lamb's credentials as a thug are solid. In addition to the latest convictions, he stabbed another inmate twice in the neck before casually walking away; beat another inmate on gang orders; told a guard, "Shank you later"; sold illegal drugs at a grade school; espouses the greatness of Adolf Hitler; calls himself the "Hollywood Hit Man"; and threatened to attack a Texas man who innocently wore skinhead-favored boots at a local beach.
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"He looks in the mirror and sees the reflection of a man who does evil, a man who hates," Baytieh told jurors before they deliberated. "He likes to play God. He deserves to be on Death Row."
Defense lawyers Marlin Stapleton and Kristen Erickson argued that life in prison ensures Lamb will never "enjoy the pleasures of life again." They said Lamb had awful, drug-abusing parents when he grew up in Cerritos and Dana Point in the 1980s and that he was ruined further by incarceration as a teen and by drug use. And yet, Lamb still finds ways to "laugh and comfort his two younger brothers," they noted.
"Understand what he's walked through," Erickson told the jury. "Does his life have anything redeemable to you? Is his crime so heinous that he's the worst of worst? He isn't evil and sadistic. He still offers goodness to the people who love him. This is truly an American tragedy."