TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's Republican governor on Monday took 21 more first-degree murder cases away from a Democratic prosecutor who has said she will no longer seek the death penalty.
Gov. Rick Scott gave the cases being handled by Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala to neighboring judicial circuit State Attorney Brad King.
Ayala has come under fire recently after announcing she wouldn't seek the death penalty against Markeith Loyd or any other defendant. Loyd is charged with killing an Orlando police lieutenant and his pregnant ex-girlfriend earlier this year. Scott took the Loyd case away from Ayala last month and reassigned it to King.
"The families who tragically lost someone deserve a state attorney who will take the time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making such an impactful decision," Scott said in a news release. "State Attorney Ayala's complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice."
Ayala's spokeswoman said Scott never notified her office about his order and instead learned about it through the media.
"Ms. Ayala remains steadfast in her position the Governor is abusing his authority and has compromised the independence and integrity of the criminal justice system," said Eryka Washington.
Ayala has said she plans to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the governor's decision to strip her of the Loyd case.
Ayala's decision has stirred strong opinions on both sides of the death penalty debate. Civil rights groups and faith groups have praised her while many Republicans lawmakers and law enforcement have criticized her.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said regardless of her position on the death penalty, Ayala needs to follow the law.
"Whenever decisions are made regarding the prosecution of individuals, the prosecutor must take into consideration the will and the desire of the victim's survivors," he said.
Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa called Scott's actions a "gross abuse of his power."
"The governor is attempting to set dangerous precedent that would destroy the idea of independence for state attorneys throughout Florida who must now fear political retribution by the state's most powerful politician if they make a decision he disagrees with," Shaw said in a news release.