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Supreme Court Rules Ayala Doesn’t Understand Florida Law – Yes, They Actually Said That

Aramis Ayala Loses Case

Orlando, FL – On Friday, September 1, Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala said that she has formed a panel of seven assistant state attorneys to decide on a case-by-case basis if the death penalty should be sought.

Ayala’s change of heart about the death penalty and capital punishment cases came one day after the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5 – 2 in favor of Governor Scott, firmly establishing his ability to reassign death penalty-eligible cases to another prosecutor, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

With the Supreme Court ruling against her, Ayala had no other option but to abandon her lawsuit to get murder cases assigned back to her.

The ruling was a major defeat for Ayala, who had taken the death penalty off the table as punishment in certain cases, according to WFTV.

When Ayala made the decision not to seek the death penalty in those cases, Governor Scott took the cases and reassigned them to State Attorney Brad King.

In March, Ayala had announced that she would not seek the death penalty against cop-killer Markeith Loyd, who murdered his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon in December, 2016, and who murdered Orlando Police Lieutenant Debra Clayton on January 9, 2017.  She also said that she would not seek the death penalty in any case that came to her office, a fact she did not disclose when running for her elected office.

On April 3, Governor Scott reassigned the Markeith Loyd case and a total of 29 cases to King because Ayala wouldn’t follow Florida law.  Ayala responded, filed a lawsuit against Governor Scott, and said that she was independently elected, that Governor Scott couldn’t take cases away from her.

In her lawsuit, she also said that the Governor was “abusing his authority”, and that it was her “discretion” which penalty to seek in a case.  Both sides presented arguments to the Florida Supreme Court in June.

In the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion, they said, “Ayala’s blanket refusal to seek the death penalty in any eligible case … does not reflect an exercise of prosecutorial discretion.  It embodies, at best, a misunderstanding of Florida law.”

In a statement issued on Thursday, Governor Scott said, “I absolutely disagreed with State Attorney Ayala’s shortsighted decision to not fight for justice.  That’s why I’ve used my executive authority to reassign nearly 30 cases to State Attorney Brad King.”

He has also reassigned additional cases from Ayala to King since March, most notably the case of Everett Glenn Miller, who ambushed and murdered Kissimmee Police Officer Matthew Baxter and Kissimmee Police Sergeant Richard “Sam” Howard on August 18.

Governor Scott said, “Such violent crimes are ‘pure evil’ and “deserve the absolute full consideration of punishment — something that State Attorney Ayala completely ruled out.”

He added, “She unilaterally decided to not stand on the side of victims and their families, which is completely sickening.  In Florida, we hold criminals fully accountable for the crimes they commit — especially those that attack our law enforcement community and innocent children.”

In a statement, Ayala responded to the Supreme Court’s decision.  She said, “that she respects the decision and appreciates the court’s response and clarification.”

“The Supreme Court of Florida ruled today that a case-specific determination must be made on first-degree murder cases,” she added.

Ayala said that the panel would investigate each first-degree murder case in her judicial district, and that it was her “expectation” that going forward, all first-degree murder cases that occur” in her jurisdiction will remain in her office and “be evaluated and prosecuted accordingly.”

She said, “My personal opinion, the facts of the case, none of that changes.  [What] the Supreme Court believes and [how] they interpret the law in a way that may be different from how I interpret it, it is absolutely up to me to abide by that regardless of how I interpret the research and the data.”

Governor Scott has not said whether he will continue re-assigning Ayala’s cases, and said on Thursday that the “key” is “whether she will enforce the law and see that justice is done”.

He said, “…we have laws in this state when you’re elected in this state. Whether you’re the governor or you’re state attorney, you’re expected to enforce the law. I’m going to enforce the law. So we’ll see what happens.”

He did state that the cases that were previously re-assigned to King would remain with King.

Ayala named the members of the death penalty panel; six are state attorneys who work for her office.  The seventh member will be the prosecutor that is assigned to the case that is being reviewed.  Each panel member has pursued the death penalty before, and does not oppose the death penalty.

It is not known yet what the cost of Ayala’s lawsuit against Governor Scott has cost taxpayers, which included hiring an attorney.  Spokeswoman Eryka Washington said she was not able to get a final amount on Friday, and expected to have the amount by Tuesday, September 5.

Florida State Representative Bob Cortes has renewed his previous call for Ayala to be suspended.  Governor Scott has not said if he will suspend Ayala or not.

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said that he is “grateful”.

“I have seen the video of Markeith Loyd executing Lt. Debra Clayton while she lay defenseless on the ground. She was given no chance to live.  A cop killer, who also killed his pregnant girlfriend, should not be given that chance,” Chief Mina said.

Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell said that he was “extremely appreciative of the Florida Supreme Court ruling in support of Gov. Scott’s authority to reassign death-penalty cases.”

He also said, “Everett Glenn Miller senselessly murdered two outstanding law enforcement professionals who cared about their community. These men were husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers. For the families of these two heroes, there can be no other option than the pursuit of justice through the fullest extent Florida law allows.”

Former Orange and Osceola County Chief Judge Belvin Perry condemned Ayala, saying, “This is a brutal decision for Aramis Ayala. Saying brutal is an understatement.  She created a great rift between the community, law enforcement and her office.”

Time will tell if Ayala’s “panel” is just for show or if it will actually decide to pursue the death penalty in appropriate cases.

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