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March 17, 2017

Capital debates in central Florida after new prosecutor says she will no longer bring capital charges

This lengthy local article, headlined "Gov. Scott appoints special prosecutor after Ayala says she won't pursue death penalty," reports on a set of interesting developments in the heart of Florida concerning the heart of prosecutorial discretion and application of the death penalty.  Here are the details:

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday removed Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd after she announced that she would not pursue the death penalty in his or any other case during her tenure.

In an executive order, Scott gave the case to Lake County State Attorney Brad King. “Earlier today, I called on State Attorney Ayala to immediately recuse herself from this case,” Scott said in a statement.  “She informed me this afternoon that she refuses to do that. She has made it clear that she will not fight for justice, and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case.”  Scott cited a state law allowing Florida’s governor to appoint a different prosecutor if he finds a “good and sufficient reason” to take it away from the original prosecutor.

Ayala issued a statement late Thursday, implying that her office would abide by Scott’s order. “Upon receipt of any lawful order, my office will follow that order and fully cooperate to ensure the successful prosecution of Markeith Loyd,” she said.

Ayala created a firestorm of criticism Thursday morning when she announced she would not seek the death penalty against Loyd or anyone else. “I have determined that doing so is not in the best interest of the community or the best interest of justice,” she said.

During a Thursday afternoon press conference, law enforcement leaders and families of victims expressed disappointment in Ayala’s intentions. Orlando Deputy Police Chief Robert Anzueto stood in front of Clayton’s widower, Seth Clayton, and spoke on his behalf. “My closure will be when Markeith Loyd is six-feet under,” Clayton told Anzueto....

Ayala’s announcement was a surprise and a position she had not made public before, despite a five-month campaign for public office, during which she was repeatedly asked about her stance. It also ran counter to information her employees had provided the Orlando Sentinel as recently as Tuesday.

Reaction came swiftly from state and local law enforcement officials, who were sharply critical. Attorney General Pam Bondi called the announcement “dangerous” and “a neglect of duty.”

But Ayala’s decision was heralded by death penalty opponents. “Ending use of the death penalty in Orange County is a step toward restoring a measure of trust and integrity in our criminal justice system,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president Florida State Conference NAACP. Orlando pastor Gabriel Salguero said, “By naming a broken program, Ms. Ayala creates hope in the community for working together to find better alternatives." Salguero leads the Calvario City Church and is president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition....

Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, expressed their anger with the decision. Demings said he supported Scott’s decision to take the case away from Ayala. “To put it bluntly, the law enforcement officers of Central Florida are outraged,” Demings said....

State attorneys have wide discretion in who to charge with a crime, what charge to file and what penalty to seek. State law does not require them to seek the death penalty.  Ayala, 42, has been state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties since Jan. 3.  She upset incumbent Jeff Ashton in a primary election in August with the help of $1.4 million in donations from a political action committee with ties to billionaire George Soros, a liberal activist.

Ashton said Thursday that when Ayala worked for him, she did not oppose the death penalty. He called her newly-declared position “ridiculous.”...  When he was her boss, she was assigned the capital murder case of David Lewis Payne, who’s accused of abducting his ex-girlfriend, putting her in the trunk of her car then killing her in 2015. “She came to me. She was really excited because she got her first death penalty case,” he said of Ayala.

During her news conference, Ayala cited several reasons she will not pursue the death penalty.  Studies have shown, she said, that it provides no public safety benefits, that it is not a deterrent and that it winds up costing the state more than cases in which a defendant is sentenced to life in prison. It also gives victims’ families false hope, she said.

“Some victims will support and some will surely oppose my decision, but I have learned that death penalty traps many victims’ families in decades long cycle of uncertainty,” she said. “ … I cannot in good faith look a victim’s family in the face and promise that a death sentence handed down in our courts will ever result in execution.”...

Former State Attorney Lawson Lamar, who served six terms prior to Ashton, and before that was Orange County Sheriff, had this reaction to Ayala’s announcement: “I, frankly, was flabbergasted. … When you don’t have a death penalty, bad things happen.” He predicted it would mean more homicides in Orange and Osceola counties. Murders, rapists and criminals whose crimes carry a life sentence now have an incentive to kill witnesses, knowing that they face no greater penalty, he said.

“I’ve been telling people, ‘Give Aramis a chance. … She’s smart. She’s well spoken.’ I think this is a big mistake. I hope the backlash from it causes her to reconsider, because in life, as an elected official, you’re supposed to protect, defend and represent the people.”

March 17, 2017 at 11:02 AM | Permalink


Why bury the lede?

"She upset incumbent Jeff Ashton in a primary election in August with the help of $1.4 million in donations from a political action committee with ties to billionaire George Soros, a liberal activist."

So the real story here is that she is a politician when bought stays bought. Remarkable.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 17, 2017 12:20:35 PM

"Ayala, 42, has been state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties since Jan. 3. She upset incumbent Jeff Ashton in a primary election in August with the help of $1.4 million in donations from a political action committee with ties to billionaire George Soros, a liberal activist."

Excited about seeking the death, then not interested. The above explains things.

I have a question about Soros, off the topic of the death penalty. He hires people to riot. He corrupts a prosecutor above. When will he be charged with federal conspiracy and RICO?

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 17, 2017 2:04:18 PM

I'd love to know the procedures for this. In every state I've lived, prosecutors don't work for the governor. The chief prosecutor is either locally elected or at least independently elected. Is Florida different?

Posted by: Erik M | Mar 17, 2017 2:47:02 PM

Ayala was elected but Florida law allows the Governor to invoke executive privilege with a situation like this.

Soros can throw money around like candy. Why he would donate 1.4 million bucs for a 2 county state judicial circuit State Attorney job is curious.

Posted by: DaveP | Mar 17, 2017 3:01:37 PM

What do you mean by "situations like this?"

Posted by: Erik M | Mar 17, 2017 3:24:24 PM

Something like this happened in NY in the 1990s ... a local prosecutor didn't want to bring the death penalty & the governor stepped in with a special prosecutor.

One probably should take the word of the person she defeated with something of a grain of salt.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 17, 2017 4:40:02 PM

But what is the authority? Whenever the governor disagrees with a use of prosecutorial discretion? Does it go in either direction (removing a prosecutor seeking the death penalty when the governor deems it inappropriate)?

Posted by: Erik M | Mar 20, 2017 2:05:21 PM

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