Orlando Prosecutor Will No Longer Seek Death Penalty

(AP) — The top prosecutor for metro Orlando said Thursday she is no longer going to seek the death penalty, igniting condemnation from some state lawmakers and law enforcement officials but also praise from some civil liberties groups.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala said she had decided to no longer seek the death penalty in first-degree murder cases after conducting a review. The most visible case immediately affected by Ayala’s decision is that of Markeith Loyd, who is charged with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police lieutenant.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement that he was “extremely upset.”

“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,” Mina said.

Ayala said at a news conference that there is no evidence of improved public safety for citizens or law enforcement with the death penalty and that such cases are costly and drag on for years.

Photo: Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel

“I have given this issue extensive, painstaking thought and consideration,” she said. “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’s decision comes just days after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill requiring a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed.

Legal questions about Florida’s death penalty law during the past year brought executions to a halt.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016 declared the state’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges to make the ultimate decision.

The Legislature responded by overhauling the law to let the death penalty be imposed by at least a 10-2 jury vote.

In October, however, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions for capital punishment.

Florida Rep. Bob Cortes said he was “outraged” by the decision not to pursue the death penalty in Loyd’s case.

But Adora Obi Nweze, president Florida State Conference NAACP, said it was a step in the right direction.

“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,” she said.