TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida state attorney who refused to seek the death penalty lost her court fight Thursday with the Republican governor who reassigned her murder cases to another prosecutor.
The state Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Rick Scott had the power to reassign cases from Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
The power struggle between Scott and Ayala began in March when she said she wouldn't consider seeking the death penalty in any homicide case. Her decision outraged Scott and others because execution wouldn't be an option if Markeith Loyd was convicted in the slayings of an Orlando police lieutenant and Loyd's pregnant ex-girlfriend.
Scott has reassigned more than 25 cases to a neighboring prosecutor, including ongoing murder cases and resentencing hearings for people already on death row.
"Crimes like these are pure evil and deserve the absolute full consideration of punishment — something that State Attorney Ayala completely ruled out," Scott said in a prepared statement. "She unilaterally decided to not stand on the side of victims and their families, which is completely sickening."
The Supreme Court ruling said Ayala has shown a "misunderstanding" of Florida law by having a blanket policy against the death penalty, instead of considering the death penalty on a case-by-case basis.
Ayala said in a news release that she respects the court's decision and that she would comply with it by forming a panel of seven assistant state attorneys to review every death penalty eligible case, although she did not explicitly say that pursuing death penalties would again be on the table in her jurisdiction.
"It is my expectation that going forward all first-degree murder cases that occur in my jurisdiction will remain in my office and be evaluated and prosecuted accordingly," she said.
In March, Ayala said the process of executing a murderer is costly, isn't a crime deterrent and drags on for years for the victims' relatives. When the Supreme Court heard her case in June, she said she has followed state law and there's nothing that requires her to seek the death penalty. The only other option in first degree murder cases is life in prison without parole.
The court said in its 5-2 decision that Ayala's "blanket prohibition against the death penalty provided the Governor with 'good and sufficient reason' to reassign the cases at issue."
The court also noted that Scott didn't mandate that the death penalty be sought in any of the cases he reassigned to neighboring prosecutor Brad King, but left it to King's discretion.
Attorney General Pam Bondi's office represented Scott before the court.
"The Governor has every right to reassign these cases to prosecutors who will uphold the laws of our great state. This year, we have seen the brutal murders of law enforcement officers in State Attorney Aramis Ayala's circuit, and her unconscionable decision to never seek the death penalty will not be tolerated," Bondi said in a prepared statement.