State Attorney Aramis Ayala blindsided voters in her Orange-Osceola circuit, and wrongly substituted her judgment for their elected representatives in Tallahassee, when she declared Thursday that she wouldn't seek the death penalty against accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd or any other defendants during her time in office.
Ayala was a political newcomer past year when she took on her former boss, then-State Attorney Jeff Ashton, who had been one of the prosecutors in the Casey Anthony case.
That decision sparked immediate disapproval, including from Gov. Rick Scott, who has asked the prosecutor in the case to recuse herself. When she refused, Scott removed her and reassigned the case to state attorney Brad King. She was a prosecutor in the State Attorney's Office for Orange and Osceola counties for about two years before she chose to seek the top job.
After a discussion with Scott on Thursday afternoon, Ayala issued a statement saying she offered to have "a full conversation" about her decision, but he "declined to explore my reasoning".
"I am outraged and sickened by this loss of life and many families' lives have been forever changed because of these senseless murders", Scott said in a statement announcing his decision. He faces two counts of first-degree murder and other charges.
Ayala argued during the courthouse press conference that seeking the death penalty would prove extremely costly and not beneficial to public safety. 'They will never continue to drain resources from this state with decades of appeals'.
The decision immediately drew condemnation from the law enforcement community and Florida politicians.
Ayala has confirmed via statement that she will abide by Scott's order nonetheless.
Clayton's husband, Seth Clayton, said he believes that the death penalty is the only way justice can be served in this case, according to Orlando police.
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Ayala, 42, became state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties on January 3 after she upset incumbent Jeff Ashton in the August primary with the help of $1.4 million in donations from a political action committee with ties to billionaire and liberal activist George Soros, the Sentinel reports.
The stance is significant because Orange County, where Ayala is a chief prosecutor, is among four of Florida's 67 counties that has produced more than five executions since 1976, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said. Among them: Markeith Loyd, accused of killing Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton on January 9 as she tried to capture him more than a week after he allegedly killed his ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called the decision "a blatant neglect of duty", saying it sends a unsafe message to residents and visitors.
Surely an experienced prosecutor like Ayala, who handled death penalty cases before, would have thought through these arguments before deciding to run for the circuit's top job. After reviewing the findings, she said only then did she conclude she could not and would not pursue death penalty prosecutions.
Prominent members of law enforcement in the Orlando community also weighed in against Ayala's move.
The law now requires a unanimous jury recommendation for death. One of those cases involved the murder of a police officer.
"I'm prepared for just about anything", King said.
Mina said the suspect "basically opened fire on" Clayton as soon as she told him to stop and continued to shoot even after she was down.
A Florida state law allows the governor to appoint a different prosecutor if there is a "good and sufficient reason" to take a case away from the original prosecutor, and Scott cited that law when removing Ayala from the case.