Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Aramis Ayala gets prominent backers in death penalty dispute with Rick Scott

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in March that her office will no longer pursue the death penalty as a sentence in any case brought before the 9th Judicial Circuit of Florida. [Orlando Sentinel via AP]
Published Apr. 24, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — Ex-prosecutors, former state Supreme Court justices, civil rights organizations and families of homicide victims from across the country have filed briefs supporting embattled Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala in her legal battle with Gov. Rick Scott.

Lawyers representing the groups filed more than a half-dozen friend-of-the-court briefs Friday in Ayala's Florida Supreme Court challenge against the governor and Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King after Scott reassigned 23 death-penalty cases being handled by Ayala's office to King.

The briefs came after the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and other families of victims notified the court they intend to also file briefs in the case backing Scott.

Scott removed Ayala, the state attorney in Orange and Osceola counties, from the cases after she announced in March that she did not intend to seek death for accused cop killer Markeith Loyd or any other defendants charged with capital crimes.

Scott stripped her of the cases "in the interest of justice," the governor said in a statement at the time.

"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," he said.

But legal experts — including many death penalty opponents — and Ayala's lawyers maintain that Scott lacked the authority to reassign the cases, because prosecutors enjoy broad discretion in charging decisions, including whether to seek capital punishment.

The entrance into the case last week of former justices, prosecutors and others from across the country — including two former U.S. solicitor generals appointed by President Bill Clinton — has sharpened a national spotlight on the controversy, focused largely on the separation of powers between different branches of government.

"When one state actor usurps the responsibilities allocated to another, the balance is upset, and the legitimacy of the justice system itself is called into question. This is especially concerning where a defendant's life is at stake," lawyers for the group wrote in a brief filed Friday.

Ayala's lawyer, Roy Austin, told the News Service of Florida that the case has drawn national attention because, for many in the legal and civil rights communities, the independence of the judicial system is at stake.

"The justice system is supposed to be, and holds itself out to be, independent of political influence. This is one of the clearest cases of an attempt to politicize our justice system. So I think people nationally who care about the independence of the justice system care about what happens in this case," Austin said.

Ayala, who unseated former State Attorney Jeff Ashton last year, argued that she based her decision on research that shows the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, is discriminatory, is costly, leaves the families of victims in limbo for too long, and is imposed on innocent people too often.

Within hours of her March announcement, Scott reassigned the case of Loyd — accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and the execution-style murder of Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton — to King, and later reassigned nearly two dozen other cases to the Ocala-area prosecutor.

Scott's handling of Ayala, Florida's first black elected state attorney, sparked outrage from African-American lawmakers, civil rights groups and others who accused the governor of singling out the prosecutor for political reasons, and heightened a racial divide centered on disparities in the administration of death sentences.

In contrast, a handful of GOP House members, along with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, applauded Scott's decision to reassign the cases, and have urged the governor to oust Ayala from office.

The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and family members of victims — including Clayton's husband and Dixon's mother — have also asked permission to file amicus briefs supporting Scott.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  2. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  3. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  4. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  5. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  6. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  7. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  8. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
  9. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
  10. Vice President Joe Biden, right, talks to supporters as former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, left, stands near during a campaign stop at at Century Village in Boca Raton, Fla., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Crist is locked in a tight race against Gov. Rick Scott in one of the most negative gubernatorial campaigns in Florida history. The two disagree on most major issues, including health care, the minimum wage, Cuba policy, gay marriage and medical marijuana. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) ORG XMIT: FLAD102 ALAN DIAZ  |  AP
    The Florida Republican-turned-Democrat said Biden’s ‘record of getting things done speaks for itself.’
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement