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FL Governor Removes State Attorney From Case After Refusing to Seek Death Penalty

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Florida Governor Rick Scott removed State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the case against alleged cop killer Markeith Loyd, after she publicly announced she will not seek the death penalty against him, or anyone else, during her time in office.

Gov. Scott first asked State Attorney Ayala to recuse herself, but then promptly issued an executive order to forcibly remove her from the case. He has the legal right to do so “for any other good and sufficient reason”, beyond simply disqualifying a prosecutor for ethical concerns. In other words, he wants the death penalty on the table, and used executive action to reassign the case to another state attorney.

“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.”

The Markeith Loyd case has been haunting Orlando locals since December 13, 2016, when he allegedly shot and killed Sade Dixon, his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He fled the scene after injuring and shooting towards other members of her family.

Loyd was on the run until January 9, 2017, when a citizen spotted him at a local Walmart. They alerted Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton, who was patrolling the area. Clayton tried to approach and arrest Loyd, but he shot her thigh, leaving her in a vulnerable position on the ground. Loyd shot her again, killing her.

Loyd’s escape sparked an even larger manhunt with a hefty reward of $100,000 for any information leading to his capture—an amount that was increased twice. A second police officer was killed in a traffic accident while the manhunt was taking place. Loyd was eventually captured about a week later, alive but brutally beaten. Some locals expressed that he was lucky to be alive and should’ve been killed. Others were critical of the violence, insisting law enforcement officers should be held to higher standards.

Gov. Scott is not the only person outraged by Ayala’s decision. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also denounced her decision, along with several other state attorneys. In a phone interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Police Chief John Mina expressed similar sentiments.

“If there was ever a case for the death penalty, this is the case”, Mina said. “I’ve seen the video, so I know the state attorney has seen the video of [Loyd] standing over defenseless and helpless Lt. Debra Clayton and executing her.”

The Orlando Police Department were first responders in the Pulse shooting tragedy, and are held in high regard locally. Everyone in Orlando wanted Loyd captured. In a liberal-leaning circuit, many citizens still expressed that this case is extraordinarily brutal, and should be considered for the death penalty—perhaps because they think it will bring justice to our city.

State Attorney Ayala held firm on her position against pursuing the death penalty in a press conference to the public.

“Florida’s death penalty has been the cause of considerable legal chaos, uncertainty and turmoil”, Ayala said, with justification—in January of 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the state’s capital punishment sentencing system violated Sixth Amendment rights to a trial by jury. Ayala expressed concerns over the effectiveness of capital punishment at deterring crime, insisting that it does not have a tangible benefit in deterring crime or keeping police officers safe. She also pointed out that life sentences are actually more cost effective than capital punishment cases.

The ACLU of Florida publicly defended her stance, along with some of her more progressive voters, who have pointed out that she ran on a platform of not pursuing the death penalty in any of her cases. Many questioned Gov. Scott’s authority to remove Ayala from the case—especially because he is a controversial conservative figure. Melba V. Pearson, Deputy Director for the ACLU of Central Florida, wrote an article arguing that Ayala was wrongfully removed.

“It promotes prosecutors making politically motivated charging decisions out of fear of the governor removing them”, Pearson wrote. “Governor Scott has also tainted the Florida jury pool—how is Markeith Loyd going to receive a fair trial under the laws of this land when he has announced that this should be a death case?”

State Attorney Ayala is the first African American woman elected as a state attorney in Florida. She is the only prosecutor to be removed in such a fashion by Gov. Scott. She was elected to oversee Orange and Osceola counties, where Downtown Orlando and Disney World are located, respectively. She won the primary against former State Attorney Jeff Ashton, lead prosecutor in the high-profile Casey Anthony trial. Later in his career, he was exposed in the Ashley Madison data breach.

Update 4/12/2017: You can read the follow-up to this article here.

Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird