Published: Sun, March 19, 2017
U.S. | By Vera Richards

Prosecutor Nixed From Fla. Case for Not Seeking Death Penalty

Prosecutor Nixed From Fla. Case for Not Seeking Death Penalty

After she refused, the governor signed an executive order, provided for in Florida law that says he can appoint a special prosecutor if, "for any good and sufficient reason, he determines the ends of justice would be best served".

Scott's action came hours after the top prosecutor in Orlando announced her office will no longer seek the death penalty in cases.

As the state attorney in the Orlando area, one of the most populous parts of a state, Ayala is responsible for an area that encompasses more than 1 million residents as well as the scores of tourists who visit the region. He is charged with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Lt. Debra Clayton.

Ayala said she made the decision after conducting a review and concluding that there is no evidence to show that imposing the death penalty improves public safety for citizens or law enforcement. "A cop killer - who also killed his pregnant girlfriend - should not be given that chance", Orlando police Chief John Mina said in a statement posted to Twitter.

"Earlier today, I called on State Attorney Ayala to immediately recuse herself from this case", Scott said in a statement.

The decision by Ayala, a Democrat, not to pursue death penalty cases in Florida's 9th Judicial Circuit sparked a sharply negative reaction from several Republican officials in the state.

"I am prohibited from making the severity of sentences the index of my effectiveness", she said on Thursday, according to The New York Times.

"What has become abundantly clear through this process is that while I do have discretion to pursue death sentences, I have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community or in the best interests of justice", Ayala said.

Ron Daniels, the father of pregnant murder victim Sade Dixon, said, "Life, no chance of parole, we get closure, but now if you give him the death penalty, he comes back". Okafor's case is now before the Florida Supreme Court because his sentence was not decided by a unanimous jury.

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Earlier this week, Scott signed another death penalty statute into effect, this one aimed at addressing the Florida Supreme Court's concerns with the law he signed previous year, which still did not require unanimous juries.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said there was wide concern among law enforcement as well, that Ayala's decision sent the wrong message.

Attorney General Pam Bondi called the announcement "a blatant neglect of duty and a shameful failure to follow the law".

After learning of Ayala's refusal to seek the death penalty, Demings said he urged her to think of the families and victims of Loyd's heinous crimes.

To that, the man she beat in last year's election reacted this way: "It was something I had feared".

The Sunshine State's death penalty sentencing scheme was on unstable ground after the U.S. Supreme Court found the sentencing law unconstitutional because it allowed judges to have the ultimate decision instead of a jury. But civil rights advocates praised her. She was a prosecutor in the state attorney's office for Orange and Osceola counties for about two years before she chose to seek the top job.

The decision to not seek the death penalty, Mina said, has left him "extremely upset".

"As an organization that represents people of faith, her decision to reject a death penalty system that has been disproportionately used against poor people and communities of color is an act of moral leadership", said Wes Lathrop, Executive Director of Faith in Florida.

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