ONLY ON FOX 35: State prosecutor Aramis Ayala explains death penalty stance, conflict with governor

- State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Aramis Ayala says her views about the death penalty have changed since she took office, saying it costs too much time and money. She believes she has a responsibility to tax payers to fight this.

"At the time I ran, I was prepared to seek death penalty. I was looking at it from a general prospective, not as informed as I am now," Ayala told FOX 35 in an exclusive interview. "When I first took office, within the first two days, the Supreme Court issued a mandate to immediately stop all death penalties. So that was the first red flag."

Ayala, the state prosecutor for Orange and Osceola counties, says death penalty cases have caused chaos in the Florida court system.

"It's not a belief, it's not an opinion, it's not a moral decision. This is a decision based upon research."

But her decision not to seek the death penalty in the Markeith Loyd case, caused instant outrage within the law enforcement community. Loyd is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and an Orlando police officer, Lt. Debra Clayton.

Orlando Police Chief Mina has also been critical of Ayala's decision.  He says he saw the surveillance video of Lt. Clayton being gunned down by Loyd. He says, in this case, there is evidence that it happened.  We asked Ayala why Loyd wouldn't deserve the death penalty if convicted, as some have suggested.

"It's not about ',deserving,' and that's what I think is very different. I can have my own feeling and my emotions and act on that, which I have my feelings about that, but when we are in a position to administer justice and law, we have to set aside our emotions."

Orlando's top law enforcement officers recently came together saying the death penalty deters crime, but Ayala disagrees. We asked how that might impact her working relationship with those law enforcement officers. 

"I think their feelings about it are going to take time -- for me to have an opportunity, for me to genuinely explain to them how I arrived at this.  That is not an indictment on how I truly value them."

While Dixon's family says they want closure and prefer Loyd get a life sentence,  Lt Clayton's husband wants death.  Understanding that many believe the death penalty to be a form of justice and that Ayala's critics, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, have asked that she recuse herself form the Loyd case, we asked if she would step down.  

"I will not," she responded.

Gov. Scott stepped in and reassigned the case to State Attorney Brad King after Ayala refused to recuse herself.  Ayala said she tried explaining her research to the governor.

"He declined to have that conversation and simply asked if I was going to recuse myself, and I said I was not,  and the conversation ended. It was extremely short."

The governor said it's about following the law.  

"Governor Scott stands by his decision to assign State Attorney Brad King to prosecute Markeith Loyd after State Attorney Ayala refused to recuse herself," read a statement sent to FOX 35 from the Office of the Governor. "As Governor Scott has continued to say, these families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served."

Ayala disagrees with the governor that it is about following the law. 

"It's unconstitutional to require death penalty in the state of Florida," she said. 

That's why Ayala is filing a civil case against the governor, saying he over stepped his authority. She want's to make sure he can't do that with the other death penalty cases.

"The civil portion isn't strictly about Markeith Loyd," she said.  "It's about the governor's lack of constitutional authority to oversee what it is I do here, related to my prosecutorial discretion."

This move could cost her in a different way, as she feels backlash from state lawmakers. Republicans who control the Florida House are proposing to cut her budget.

"I find it interesting that, at this point, they're introducing bills in the Legislature to cut the budget of the Ninth Circuit by $1.3 million and 21 positions for assistant state attorneys, and this is just on the heels of me making an announcement and the governor deciding to recuse me from the case.  The dangerous part of that is, not only is it a public safety issue, it has economic impacts to this community."

Ayala said a victim's family could wait up to 40 years for a death sentence. She said it costs $51 million to fight death penalty cases a year.

Ayala has been fighting to keep the Loyd case under her jurisdiction.  A judge on Tuesday ruled that Florida's governor can remove a prosecutor from a death penalty-eligible case and he denied a request to delay the proceedings.  Another hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.

 
 
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