Florida prosecutor agrees to seek death penalty in future
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida prosecutor who fought and lost a battle with the governor over her decision not to seek the death penalty said Friday that she will comply with a state Supreme Court decision and seek it in future cases if it is unanimously recommended by a panel of her assistant prosecutors.
State Attorney Aramis Ayala made her announcement a day after the state’s high court upheld Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s power to reassign her first-degree murder cases to another prosecutor.
The Orlando-area state attorney said a seven-member review panel of assistant state attorneys in her office will review all first-degree murder cases and then recommend to her which cases warrant seeking the death penalty.
Ayala said she won’t have a say in the decisions the seven members come up with.
“I have vested my authority into the review panel and I have no intention of usurping the authority which I granted,” Ayala said from the steps of the Orange County Courthouse.
She said that if the review panel, comprised of six prosecuting attorneys along with the assigned state attorney, reaches a unanimous decision to seek the death penalty she will accept their recommendation. She said the panel includes attorneys who have sought the death penalty in past cases and are not opposed to pursuing capital punishment going forward.
“I have chosen this team of experienced prosecutors who I am extremely confident will follow the law,” she said. “None of them has either expressed or has been confirmed as having no opposition to death penalty.”
It’s not clear, however, if Scott will go along with the new arrangement.
Ayala and Scott have been entangled in a power struggle since she said in March she would not consider seeking the death penalty in any homicide case. That prompted Scott to remove more than 25 first-degree murder cases, including the upcoming trial of Markeith Loyd from the elected official’s office and give them to special prosecutor. Loyd is accused of slaying his pregnant ex-girlfriend and a policewoman who tried to apprehend him.
Ayala said Friday she will not continue to fight to have those cases already taken away returned to her office. But she said she intends to remain over all future first-degree murder cases.
“I respect the decision and appreciate that the Supreme Court of Florida has responded and issued an opinion, outlining its interpretation of the facts and circumstances of this case as well as Florida and other state law,” Ayala said. “This has now set the stage for how I will move forward.”
John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor will “continue to review” the actions of Ayala’s office, but added that “the governor must be convinced that the death penalty will be sought as outlined in Florida law, when appropriate. The governor will always stand with crime victims and their families.”
Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout contributed to this story from Tallahassee