A Florida State Attorney’s resolute stance against the death penalty has prompted Gov. Rick Scott to reassign nearly two dozen first-degree murder cases.
Scott took away 21 additional murder cases from Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala on Monday, April 3, citing her refusal to seek the death penalty in any murder case handled under her administration. All cases will now be managed by State Attorney Brad King, who serves Lake, Marion and three other counties, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The governor has stood by his decision, saying it was made “in the interest of justice.”
“Each of these cases I am reassigning represents a horrific loss of life,” Scott said in a statement. “The families who tragically lost someone deserve a state attorney who will take the time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making such an impactful decision.”
The move comes just three weeks after Scott removed Ayala from the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd after she declined to seek the death penalty for him or anyone else who had been charged with murder. The state attorney’s stance drew cheers from death penalty-opponents, but that didn’t keep her from being vilified by law enforcement and state officials.
“[Ayala’s decision] is a blatant neglect of duty and a shameful failure to follow the law as a constitutionally elected officer,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said.
King has since been appointed as a special prosecutor in the Loyd case, along with six other cases involving murder defendants who have not been to trial yet. A number of defendants have already been sentenced to death while others have cases on appeal, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Gov. Scott’s sudden decision to strip cases from Ayala has drawn much criticism, especially from officials arguing that he may have overstepped his boundaries.
“Ms. Ayala remains steadfast in her position that the governor is abusing his authority and has compromised the independence and integrity of the criminal justice system,” said Erykah Washington, a spokeswoman for the state attorney.
State Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa), a member of the Legislature’s Black caucus, also blasted Scott’s decision, adding that he could be setting a dangerous precedent.
“The governor is attempting to set a dangerous precedent that would destroy the idea of independence for State Attorneys throughout Florida who must now fear political retribution … if they make a decision he disagrees with,” Shaw said in a statement.
Since Scott’s announcement of the case reassignments, King’s office hasn’t determined how it’ll handle the extra workload. Six of the cases involve defendants awaiting trial, including Larry Perry, who is accused of beating his infant son to death, and Juan Rosario, who’s charged with beating his 83-year-old neighbor to death, then setting her Orange County home on fire.
Monday’s reassignments also involve accused killers who have already been convicted. They include death-row inmate John Huggins, who was convicted of strangling Carla Larson, an engineer who disappeared from a Publix near Disney World in 1997, and Jermaine “Bugsy” Lebron, who was convicted in the 1995 murder of a 22-year-old Belle Isle man in Osceola County, the newspaper reported.
A spokeswoman for Scott said cases awaiting court decisions cannot be reassigned until their appeals have concluded.