“I have given this issue extensive, painstaking thought and consideration,” Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala said. “What has become abundantly clear through this process is that while I 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.”
Ms Ayala was speaking at a press conference on her decision not to seek the death penalty for Markeith Loyd, who is alleged to have murdered his pregnant girlfriend, Sade Dixon, last December, and police officer Debra Clayton in January.
Ms Ayala’s decision has caused outrage among law enforcement officers in the state of Florida, and also from the victims’ families.
State Attorneys in the Unites States serve as the chief law enforcement officer in the county, circuit, or district, and are responsible for prosecuting criminal cases on behalf of the state, and may also provide legal advice to the state government. In some states, the State Attorney is an elected position, as in the case of Ms Ayala.
After she announced her decision on Thursday, the Florida Governor, Rick Scott, signed an order to reassign the first degree murder case to the State Attorney of a neighbouring district.
“She has made it clear that she will not fight for justice and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case,” Governor Scott said in a statement.
“I want to be very clear,” he added. “Lt. Debra Clayton was executed while she was laying on the ground fighting for her life. She was killed by an evil murderer who did not think twice about senselessly ending her life.”
He said he completely disagreed with Ms Ayala’s actions and asked her to “recuse herself immediately from this case.”
“She has made it abundantly clear that she will not fight for justice for Lt. Debra Clayton and our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.”
Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi also condemned Ms Ayala’s decision.
“State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s decision today sends a dangerous message to residents and visitors of the greater Orlando area — furthermore, it is a blatant neglect of duty and a shameful failure to follow the law as a constitutionally elected officer,” AG Bondi said in a written statement.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement that he was “extremely upset.”
“The heinous crimes that he (Loyd) committed in our community are the very reason that we have the death penalty as an option under the law,” he said.
But Ms Ayala stood her ground.
“This decision has not been easy,” she told the media, “but I believe that this decision is necessary for the proper administration of justice.”
She explained that she had come to her decision after conducting her own review of the effectiveness of the death penalty and has concluded that there is no evidence to show that capital punishment improves public safety, and that such cases could also drag on for years, resulting in costly court cases.
“I took an oath to support, protect and defend the Constitution and the American Bar Association rules of conduct outline my duties as a prosecutor,” she explained. “My duty is to seek justice, which is fairness, objectivity and decency. I am to seek reform and to improve the administration of justice. I am prohibited from making the severity of my sentences the index of my effectiveness.”
“When I am in the position of state attorney I have to eliminate my personal feelings and pursue whether or not the evidence supports my decision, and I believe it does,” she said.
Ms Ayala’s decision has drawn support from some quarters, including civil rights leaders and organisations.
“A powerful symbol of racial injustice has now been discarded in Orange County,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP.
“We are so thankful that Aramis Ayala recognizes that an institution plagued by racial bias has no place in our society today. Ending use of the death penalty in Orange County is a step toward restoring a measure of trust and integrity in our criminal justice system.”