Yesterday Governor Rick Scott pulled 21 death penalty cases from Orange and Osceola county State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
This morning, Representative Bob Cortes held a press conference calling for Ayala’s removal from office.
Last week, there was a rally supporting Aramis Ayala in Tallahassee and a press conference held by victims of violent crimes and law enforcement. Both were sparked by the State Attorney’s decision to not pursue the death penalty in any case in Orange and Osceola counties which are located in Florida; a state that lawfully uses the death penalty to punish those guilty of heinous crimes.
We, as a unit, are fighting about where to fight. Some say we should be standing with Ayala and if you’re not, you’re called a sell-out. Others say we should be following the letter of the law.
As black people, we march and take to the streets, the capitol or anywhere else we see fit. We have that right to be able to peaceably assemble. But what really are supporters of Aramis Ayala marching for?
I’ve heard they are marching to protest the death penalty and Ayala’s decision to not enforce it. The fact of the matter is the death penalty is already legal in this state and Ayala’s decision to not enforce it is unlawful. Color of Change was a part of the movement and helped to provide petitions showing Floridians are against the death penalty.
Many of those petitions aren’t from Florida residents.
Ayala spent over a million dollars pleading her case to a small portion of Orange and Osceola counties to win the seat of State Attorney after she disenfranchised Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and NPA’s by dumping a write-in candidate into the race. With all those ad dollars coming in, never once did she use the airwaves, online or print media to tell voters her position on the death penalty. Do you think that was just by happenstance or because no one asked her?
On the flip-side, when she was an Assistant State Attorney, she had no qualms about the death penalty. She was even excited to try her first homicide case.
Prosecutors are typically questioned extensively about their position on the death penalty and most are questioned when being interviewed for the job. Someone who is uncomfortable with the death penalty would likely not be suited as a homicide prosecutor nor would they be rising through the ranks as she did in Jeff Ashton’s office if she were anti-death penalty.
But, let’s say her views changed after she launched her campaign. After receiving $1.4 million dollars in campaign money from a billionaire donor named George Soros, who is an anti-death penalty proponent, her decision to not seek the death penalty is being questioned, and rightfully so.
As State Attorney, Ayala does have prosecutorial discretion. She used that when she decided not to seek death against Markeith Loyd, who police say killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Officer Debra Clayton. Governor Scott removed her from the Loyd case and assigned State Attorney Brad King from the Fifth Judicial Circuit in Florida. The Governor’s reasoning to do so is absolutely on point.
Ayala’s error is not that she used prosecutorial discretion to keep from charging Loyd with death, but her error lies in announcing a blanket policy not to pursue the death penalty in her administration. At all. Ever. For any case current or in the future.
That’s right. Even cases in the future. God forbid another Pulse nightclub tragedy happens and the suspect is taken alive.
Florida Statute 782.04 1(b) states, “In all cases under this section, the procedure set forth in s. 921.141 shall be followed in order to determine sentence of death or life imprisonment.” Shall within a statute is a must. It’s mandatory. It’s imperative. She did not follow the law.
On another note, Florida Statute 921.141 then continues to spell out the proceedings for the sentence of life or death imprisonment for capital felonies. The aggravators for pursuing the death penalty are within this same statute. It appears, Loyd’s case fulfills at least 5 of 16 aggravators. Prosecutors only need one to seek the death penalty.
Making this about race, inflames both sides. Florida Senator Randolph Bracy even wrote an op-ed saying Florida Governor Rick Scott is being “vengeful”. Vengeful? Really? That’s not just a stretch, it’s outright wrong to describe him as such and to use the media to brand him as a “vengeful Governor” simply for upholding the law and the Florida Statutes.
Ayala announced her policy which supersedes the law and that is what this is all about. Nothing more. Nothing less. Making this about law, is the only way and this case should be sitting before a judge and jury as a death penalty case. The jury would have the option to sentence Loyd to death, certainly not a State Attorney who is the prosecutor. If the framework in Florida Statute 782.04 1(b) on capital felonies is to be followed on a case-by-case basis, how in the world can Ayala do that when she has a policy to never pursue the death penalty?
Ayala has neglected her duty as prosecutor by not looking at each on a case-by-case basis and therefore should be removed from office as her personal beliefs and her donors personal beliefs clearly conflict with the law.