Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala made it clear Thursday that she won't pursue the death penalty for murder cases during her term, including the case of Markeith Loyd, who's accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police lieutenant.
"I have given this issue extensive, painstaking thought and consideration," says Ayala, who was recently elected to the position last November. "What has become abundantly clear through this process is that while I currently 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. After careful review and consideration of the new statute, under my administration I will not be seeking the death penalty."
Last night, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement that he was "extremely upset" with Ayala's decision not to pursue the most extreme punishment for Loyd.
"I have seen the video of Markeith Loyd executing Lt. Debra Clayton while she lay defenseless on the ground," Mina said in the statement. "She was given no chance to live. A cop killer – who also killed his pregnant girlfriend – should not be given that chance. The heinous crimes that he committed in our community are the very reason we have the death penalty as an option under the law."
Ayala says she has discretion under Florida law to choose whether to seek the death penalty. Florida's death penalty law has been in flux after the U.S. Supreme Court found the sentencing law unconstitutional because it allowed judges to have the ultimate decision instead of a jury. Florida lawmakers responded by requiring a 10-2 vote for the jury for the death penalty. The state Supreme Court struck down that law and required for unanimous juries. This week, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a requirement that juries be unanimous when recommending the death penalty, which now allows state attorneys across Florida to pursue it.
"I will continue to hold people who do harm in this community accountable for their action," Ayala says. "I will do so in a way that is sensible, fair and just. Florida's death penalty has been the cause of considerable legal chaos, uncertainty and turmoil. An analysis of the death penalty must be pragmatic. It must be realistic and not simply theoretical, impulsive or emotional."
Ayala says the death penalty process drags victims' families through the justice system as defendants continue to appeal their case through the courts. Executions don't happen immediately after a suspect is convicted - it can take years, or even decades, as defendants exhaust the legal process. Ayala adds that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime and has no public safety benefit.
"There is no justice when victims are being misled about an end that I doubt will occur," she says.
Ayala is deciding not to pursue the death penalty in the case of Loyd, the 41-year-old suspect accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon in December and later fatally shooting Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton at a Walmart a month later in an "execution-style" manner. Loyd was on the run from authorities after allegedly killing Clayton for about a week before he was found in an Orlando home. He has since been at the Orange County jail and has decided to represent him during court appearances.