Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala says a noose was sent to her office after she announced last month that she wouldn't seek the death penalty for cases during her tenure.
Ayala made the remarks last week to host Paul Porter during a radio interview
on WHPB 98.5 The Wire
, a station based in the Pine Hills area. Porter had asked Ayala about the threats she received after announcing in March that she wouldn't seek the death penalty for murder cases, including the case of Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton. Ayala cited several factors that went into her decision, such as research that shows the death penalty is costly to taxpayers, does not deter crime and makes victims' families continue to relive crimes as defendants appeal their sentences, which can take years.
"I have gotten a lot of pushback," Ayala said. "I received a noose that was mailed to my office. I received several types of derogatory and racist remarks to me, personally and professionally."
Ayala is the first African-American to be elected as state attorney in Florida. Several lynching threats were directed at Ayala shortly after her announcement, including one from an employee with the Seminole County Clerk of the Court's office. Stan McCullars, an assistant finance director with the office, resigned
after he was suspended
for posting on Facebook that Ayala should "get the death penalty" and be "tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree." The threats are especially egregious given Florida's own history of terrorizing African-American communities with lynchings. From 1877 to 1950, Florida led the country in per capita lynchings, according to the Orlando Sentinel
. In that same timespan, 34 black people were lynched, including July Perry
, an Ocoee resident who was hung in Orlando for trying to vote.
Eryka Washington, a spokesperson for Ayala's office, confirmed that a noose was sent to the prosecutor's office and that the matter was reported to the Orange County Sheriff's Office, which is handling the investigation. Orlando Weekly
contacted OCSO for a report of the incident but did not get an immediate response.
In the interview with 98.5 The Wire, Ayala also acknowledged and thanked her local supporters, including activists who traveled to Tallahassee
to rally against the death penalty in front of Florida lawmakers.
"The stance of this community is one of the most amazing things that I have seen in my career," she said. "People have something to stand for. They're uniting on an issue, and it is making this community and even me personally proud. I want to say thank you to those people who have spoke up, who have done something, and even those who have kept it quiet in their hearts, thank you for standing on the side of what is right."
After Ayala announced her decision, she was removed from the Loyd case by Gov. Rick Scott, who said she "won't fight for justice." Later, Scott removed her from 22 more first-degree murder cases and reassigned all 23 to Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King. Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have also targeted her office, proposing to cut her budget by more than $1 million. Last week, Ayala filed two lawsuits
against the governor – one in the Florida Supreme Court and one in the federal court of the Middle District of Florida. In the state court case, Ayala is asking the governor to prove what constitutional authority allowed him to remove her from the cases.
Ayala tells Porter in the radio interview that she handles threats made to her by "being right."
"I'm not going to encourage anyone to continue to threaten what is right," she says. "This community needs to readdress how we are sentencing people and how we are handling criminal justice in this community. And the Legislature, fortunately, they're beginning to look at this. We need to be evidence-based in how we are pursuing criminal justice in this community."
Press play below to listen to Ayala's whole 22-minute interview with 98.5 The Wire.