Another Strike Against Florida’s Death Penalty

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala is under attack for announcing she won’t seek the death penalty in any murder case. /WFTV-Channel 9 screenshot

In the matter of Florida’s death penalty whom do you trust?

In a rare display of prosecutorial decency, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala said she would not pursue the death penalty in any case before the Ninth Judicial Circuit, including against Markeith Loyd, who is accused of the shooting death of an Orlando police officer and the killing of his pregnant girlfriend.

Both are terrible coldblooded crimes for which Loyd will stand trial and is 99.9 percent certain of being convicted, never again to see the light of day. 

Normally, that would be the end of it. Instead, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and many state elected officials took the grand stand of loudly opposing Ayala, calling for Loyd’s – and Ayala’s – heads.

Ayala is Florida’s first African American state attorney, elected by voters last November to a four-year term.

Whom do you trust?

Dangerous Precedent

Scott also issued an unprecedented and highly political executive order to strip Ayala of the case, handing it to the Lake County state attorney because the governor was “not happy” with Ayala’s position, including a refusal to recuse herself.

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, called the governor’s decision “a dangerous precedent,” which it surely is. “Whenever the governor doesn’t like the exercise of prosecutorial decision by an elected prosecutor, he’s going to step in and appoint somebody else?”

Whom do you trust? 

Death Sentencing Quagmire

Would that the governor had shown such compunction about the death penalty quagmire in which Florida was stuck until recently, in which juries were not required to have unanimous death penalty verdicts and, worse, in which judges could overturn juries’ decisions.

The super-majority Republican Legislature tried papering over U.S. Supreme Court objections to Florida death sentence procedures by settling for 10-to-12 death penalty verdicts. But that, too, was a no-go.

The Florida Supreme Court insisted death penalty verdicts must be unanimous or nothing, a totally reasonable demand when faced with state-sanctioned execution. 

Whom do you trust?

Death Penalty “Fix”

Ironically, Scott just signed the “death penalty fix,” allowing executions to go forward. Florida has nearly 400 people on death row. Scott personally is responsible for execution orders for 23 prisoners since 2011, when he became governor, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

And, by the way, about 26 innocent people have been freed from the state’s death row, the Death Penalty Information Center has reported.

Whom do you trust?

Just so you know, “As of January 2013, Orange County had more prisoners on its death row than 99.2% of U.S. counties and was among the 2% of counties responsible for more than half of all executions in the U.S. since 1976,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Whom do you trust?

What Ayala Got Wrong

If Ayala got anything wrong, it’s this:

  • First, Ayala seriously and naively underestimated the blood-thirsty politics of the death penalty, although only 35 percent of Floridians favor the death penalty, per Public Policy Polling.
  • Ayala went out on a limb all by her lonesome self, including in front of TV cameras, instead of building a coalition to help support her anti-death penalty position,  which 62 percent of Floridians actually support, per Public Policy Polling. She looked alone, unsure and isolated before the public. Supporters, including clergy who thanked Ayala for being “just and brave in the name of God,” came out a day later. But by then Republicans and the 24-hour news cycle had done a number on Ayala.
  • Third, Ayala has not appealed the governor’s executive order (although there’s still time to change her mind, and I wish she would). Scott’s order may be popular in the court of Facebook but it may have no legal leg to stand on in a court of law. Floridians need to be certain of that, one way or the other.

Ayala has broken no law. Governor Scott should not be allowed to replace prosecutors whose decisions he doesn’t “like.”

Whom do you trust?

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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