Florida Legislators Propose Cuts To Prosecutor
On Monday Republicans in the Florida House proposed cuts to the budget of an Orlando prosecutor who has announced she will no longer seek the death penalty in cases handled by her office.
The recommendations include the cut of $1.3 million and 21 jobs from the budget used on State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
Ayala made headlines when she said she would no longer seek the death penalty in the case of cop-killer Markeith Lloyd. Lloyd is charged with murdering and Orlando police lieutenant and his pregnant ex-girlfriend.
Governor Rick Scott took the case away from Ayala after she made that announcement and reassigned it to another prosecutor. She now argues that Scott doesn’t have the authority to remove her from the case.
The House’s budget proposal would use the money saved from Ayala to use towards prosecutors who are reassigned death penalty cases.
Background On Aramis Ayala And Her Decision To Not Seek The Death Penalty
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Florida prosecutor who thrust herself into the forefront of the anti-death penalty movement is a political novice who was elected just seven months ago.
Aramis Ayala, a Democrat and former public defender and assistant state attorney, surprised many of her own supporters when she announced this week that her office would no longer seek capital punishment in a state that has one of the largest death rows. In response, the state’s Republican governor promptly transferred a potential death penalty case — the killing of a police officer and a pregnant woman earlier this year — to another Florida prosecutor.
“I understand this is a controversial issue, but what isn’t controversial is the evidence that led me to my decision,” said Ayala, the first black state attorney elected in Florida.
She said there is no evidence that shows the death penalty improves public safety for citizens or law enforcement, and it’s costly and drags on for years for the victims’ families.
Advocates seeking to abolish the death penalty said Ayala sent a powerful message. Her decision reflects decreasing support for capital punishment in the U.S., said Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty.
“There are some prosecutors who in practice are following her lead. They just haven’t spoken out like she has,” Clifton said. “It would be wonderful if they spoke out and we could have a louder voice.”
Ayala spent the first decade or so of her career as an assistant state attorney and public defender. She was a prosecutor in the state attorney’s office for Orange and Osceola counties for about two years before she decided to seek the top job. The county is home to Walt Disney World and other tourist attractions and has grown more liberal over the past two decades.
Ayala was a political newcomer last year when she took on her former boss, then-State Attorney Jeff Ashton, who had been one of the prosecutors in the Casey Anthony case. Anthony was acquitted of murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.
Ayala didn’t run on an anti-death penalty platform when she campaigned, since at the time Florida’s death penalty law was in question after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. A new death penalty bill was signed into law this week.
She instead emphasized during her campaign that she would engage with average citizens if elected. She acknowledged that her husband had served time in prison for drug conspiracy and counterfeiting checks years ago.
Even some of Ayala’s supporters said Friday they were taken aback by her decision.
Lawson Lamar, a former state attorney and sheriff, who backed her run for office, said: “Anyone who raises their hand and takes the oath to be state attorney must be able to go with the death penalty even if they feel it’s distasteful.”
Ayala’s campaign was helped by a Washington-based political action committee with ties to liberal Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros. The committee gave Ayala’s campaign almost $1 million, as well as millions of dollars to candidates in local races around the nation.
When asked if the donations influenced her decision, she said it did not.
Florida has 381 inmates on death and shows no sign of slowing down future prosecutions. The other state attorneys in Florida issued a statement Friday saying they would continue to seek the death penalty.
Rafael Zaldivar, whose son was murdered in Orlando in 2012, said Ayala’s decision is part of a political agenda and has no place in the state attorney’s office. He demanded her resignation.
“She is an activist. She isn’t a prosecutor. She has an agenda,” said Zaldivar, whose son’s killer was sentenced to death in 2015. Questions over Florida’s death penalty law have cast doubt over the sentence. His case is currently on appeal.