ORLANDO, Fla. – The Florida State Attorney tasked with prosecuting accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd announced she would not seek the death penalty. As a result, she has been benched.
Governor’s executive order
Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday issued an executive order, taking away from Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala 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, reported Orlando Sentinel.
Gov. Scott called upon Lake County State Attorney Brad King to carry forward with the prosecution.
“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 Thursday afternoon 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.
Officials disappointed with state attorney
There were many disappointed people when Ayala announced earlier in the day that she would not seek the death penalty against Loyd, or anyone else for that matter. Her controversial declaration created a firestorm of criticism.
“I have determined that doing so is not in the best interest of the community or the best interest of justice,” she said.
Her announcement was a surprise since it was not a position that she had publicly declared before now, even though she was involved in a five-month campaign for public office.
It also ran counter to information her employees had provided the media according to the Orlando Sentinel.
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.”
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings stood in front of Clayton’s widower, Seth Clayton, at a press conference Thursday afternoon and said he supported Scott’s decision to take the case away from Ayala.
Orlando Deputy Police Chief Robert Anzueto said he believes Ayala should leave Loyd’s fate in the hands of a jury.
“The decision for someone to live or die in a case like this should be in the hands of a jury and not for one person to decide,” Anzueto said. “…Would we be having this discussion if Omar Mateen, the Pulse terrorist, was captured alive?” he asked, referring to the attack that left 49 people dead in an Orlando club last June.
Death penalty opponents applaud move
Conversely, death penalty opponents with the NAACP and a coalition of Orlando-area civil rights activists and religious leaders applauded the move.
State law does not require Ayala to seek the death penalty. But on egregious cases such as this, there is an expectation that prosecutors would pursue this option under the law.
State attorney politics
Ayala defeated her former boss, incumbent Jeff Ashton in the primary election. She has been in office since Jan. 3. Listening to Ashton, politics appear to be driving this decision.
According to the Sentinel report, Ayala received $1.4 million in donations from a political action committee with ties to billionaire George Soros, a liberal activist.
Since no Republican entered the race, the primary determined the winner. Ashton said Thursday that when Ayala worked for him, she did not oppose the death penalty.
He called her newly-declared position “ridiculous. … It’s outrageous.”
Ashton pointed out that Ayala was previously 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.
R.J. Larizza has been the elected state attorney in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, which includes Volusia County, since 2010. During his tenure, he has not heard of another state attorney in Florida refusing to use the death penalty.
Chief joins sheriff in expressing disappointment
Both Orlando’s chief of police, John Mina, and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings expressed their disappointment in Ayala’s decision. Mina told the Sentinel the death penalty is a deterrent for crime.
“In the heat of the moment is the person thinking about that, probably not,” he said. “But in society there has to be consequences for heinous crimes and the death penalty is one of those consequences. That is why we have that law.”
Ayala made the announcement the same week the Governor signed into law a new death penalty statute, one that requires all 12 jurors to vote for the death penalty.
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.”