Recusal Over Refusal To Seek Death Penalty
BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
ORLANDO - More debate than discussion has followed Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s decision last Thursday, which asked State Attorney Aramis Ayala to recuse herself after she refused to seek the death penalty for Markeith Loyd.
Loyd, 42 was arrested after a weeklong manhunt in the slayings of Officer Deborah Clayton and his pregnant ex-Sade Dixon the month prior. The pursuit of Loyd also caused another death, the collision killing of Sheriff’s Deputy Norm Lewis.
Ayala, who was elected in Nov.2016, defeating longtime Prosecutor Jeff Ashton, declared she would not seek the death penalty in Loyd’s case nor in any other capital murder cases.
In an executive order, Scott asked Ayala to recuse herself and appointed Lake County based State Attorney Brad King in her place.
“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.”
Scott also referenced a state statute, signaling the powers a state Governor holds to remove a prosecutor if said prosecutor doesn’t abide by the regulations stated in their office.
“If any state attorney is disqualified to represent the state in any investigation, case, or matter pending in the courts of his or her circuit or if, for any other good and sufficient reason, the Governor determines that the ends of justice would be best served, the Governor may, by executive order filed with the Department of State.” The legislation read.
On the same day, Ayala’s office responded, stating that her office and position will abide by Scott’s order.
“Upon receipt of any lawful order, my office will follow that order and fully cooperate to ensure the successful prosecution of Markeith Loyd,” she said.
“I have determined that doing so is not in the best interest of the community or the best interest of justice,” she said.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office responded by calling Ayala’s statements’ “dangerous” and “a neglect of duty.”
Both online and in public, Ayala’s decision, and Scott’s response to her decision, has created criticism and advocacy on both sides.
“Ending use of the death penalty in Orange County is a step toward restoring a measure of trust and integrity in our criminal justice system,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president Florida State Conference NAACP.
“We stand with Aramis. She is doing what’s correct with her moral conscience.” said Miles Mulrain, a longtime Pine Hills activist.
This debate comes a week after Gov. Scott signed into law the new Florida Death penalty statute.
SB 280, the bill’s moniker, will make way for more executions, which have been on hold since January of last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s capital punishment methods unconstitutional.
The bill revises sentencing requirements in capital felony cases to require a unanimous jury verdict, rather than a certain number of jurors, for a sentencing recommendation of death.
As Governor, Scott has signed more death warrants than any Governor since 1976.
Florida allowed judges to issue death sentences based on a majority recommendation of a jury, a violation of the Sixth Amendment, the ruling stated.
“This legislation ensures that our state has a constitutionally-compliant system of justice in place for both the families of victims and the individuals charged with serious crimes.” Senator Randolph Bracy said.