A Florida prosecutor says she will not seek the death penalty in first-degree murder cases, which brought immediate criticism from law enforcement officials in the state who want to see the penalty pursued particularly in the case of a man who is accused of shooting an Orlando police officer to death.
Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala said Thursday that after conducting a review of death penalty cases that public safety is not improved for citizens or police and that they are costly and can take years to resolve.
“While I currently do have discretion to pursue death sentences,” Ayala said at a news conference. “I have determined that doing so is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice.”
Ayala was instantly criticized by the law enforcement community leaders in Florida because her decision means that capital punishment would not be pursued in the case of Markeith Loyd, who was arrested in January on charges of fatally shooting Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton on Jan. 9. He was also charged separately in the death of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, who police say he shot to death Dec. 13.
“The heinous crimes that he committed in our community are the very reason that we have the death penalty as an option under the law,” said Orlando Police Chief John Mina.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for Ayala to recuse herself from the Loyd case. “She has made it abundantly clear that she will not fight for justice for Lt. Debra Clayton and our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day,” he said.
Ayala’s decision comes just days after Scott signed a bill requiring a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed, which makes it more like that of other states.
“Let me be very clear, however,” said Ayala, who was elected last Fall. “I will continue to hold people who do harm to this community accountable for their actions. I will do so in a way that is sensible, fair and just.”
Florida’s death penalty has run in to what has been called a chaotic situation. The state has the second largest death row in the country at 396 people, only behind California, which has 741 according to figures from the Death Penalty Information Center. Under Scott, the state has put 23 prisoners to death, but continual challenges to the death penalty statute has resulted in only one execution in 2016. The law has twice been found unconstitutional since the beginning of 2016.
Ayala did win praise from death penalty opponents who say that the move challenges the racial and socioeconomic disparities associated with capital punishment.
— AmnestyInternational (@amnestyusa) March 16, 2017
— Russell Simmons (@UncleRUSH) March 16, 2017
— ACLU of Florida (@ACLUFL) March 16, 2017
“Some victims will support and some will surely oppose my decision, but I have learned that death penalty traps many victim’s families in decades long cycle of uncertainty,” she said. “…I cannot in good faith look a victim’s family in the face and promise that a death sentence handed down in our courts will ever result in execution.”