State Attorney Aramis Ayala organizes death penalty panel to review murder cases

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PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett
After the Florida Supreme Court ruled against her petition to stop Gov. Rick Scott from removing her from death penalty cases, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala says she has organized a death penalty review panel to examine first-degree murder cases individually.

"With implementation of this panel, it is my expectation that going forward all first-degree murder cases that occur in my jurisdiction will remain in my office and be evaluated and prosecuted accordingly," Ayala says in a statement Thursday.

The court ruled in favor of the governor 5-2 with Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince dissenting. Writing for the majority, Justice C. Alan Lawson said Scott reassigning 29 capital cases from Ayala were "predicated upon 'good and sufficient reason,' namely Ayala’s blanket refusal to pursue the death penalty in any case despite Florida law establishing the death penalty as an appropriate sentence under certain circumstances." Pariente, who wrote the dissenting opinion, said the Scott's decision to remove Ayala "fundamentally undermines the constitutional role of duly elected state attorneys."

In a statement Ayala says her interpretation of the ruling means the court is asking for case-specific determination on first-degree murder cases. The death penalty review panel will consist of seven experienced assistant state attorney who will review each first-degree murder case in Orange and Osceola Counties.

"I respect the decision and appreciate that the Supreme Court of Florida has responded and provided clarification," Ayala says in a statement.

Following the court ruling, Scott's released a statement calling it a victory.

"Crimes like these are pure evil and deserve the absolute full consideration of punishment – something that State Attorney Ayala completely ruled out," Scott says. "She unilaterally decided to not stand on the side of victims and their families, which is completely sickening. In Florida, we hold criminals fully accountable for the crimes they commit – especially those that attack our law enforcement community and innocent children."

UPDATE: The News Service of Florida reports Scott's spokesperson, John Tupps, says for now, the governor does not plan to reinstate Ayala on any of the cases he removed her from.

"Until State Attorney Ayala fully recants her statement that she will not seek the death penalty in any case, and the Governor is convinced that crime victims will be protected and justice will be served, our office does not plan to return any of the 29 cases that are being prosecuted by State Attorney Brad King," Tupps said in a statement to NSF. "State Attorney Ayala needs to make it clear that her office will seek the death penalty as outlined in Florida law, when appropriate. State Attorney Ayala’s statement today leaves too much room for interpretation."

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