TALLAHASEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott issued a series of executive orders Monday afternoon removing State Attorney Aramis Ayala from 21 first-degree murder cases.
Those cases have been reassigned to State Attorney Brad King, who Scott also assigned to prosecute accused double murderer Markeith Loyd after Ayala announced that she would not be pursuing the death penalty in that case or any other case.
“Each of these cases I am reassigning represents a horrific loss of life. 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," Scott said in a statement.
The governor said Ayala's refusal to seek capital punishment "sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice."
Ayala's office released a statement Monday afternoon saying that the state attorney was never given advance notice about the 21 executive orders and she only found out after seeing news reports.
"Ms. Ayala remains steadfast in her position the Governor is abusing his authority and has compromised the independence and integrity of the criminal justice system," the statement read.
When Ayala announced her stance on March 16, she said the death penalty does not deter crime and ends up costing taxpayers more money in the long run.
“By choosing to seek life sentences over death, we can assure that violent offenders will never be released. They will never continue to drain resources from this state with decades of appeals,” Ayala said during a news conference.
Since then, she's been subjected to two rounds of executive orders from Scott's office and Florida House Republicans have proposed that her budget be slashed by $1.3 million.
Scott said in a statement that King has accepted the reassigned cases and will review each one "in accordance with the law."
King told News 6 that his office anticipated Scott's move and has already moved around cases internally to account for the extra workload.
"We've already gotten the attorney general called and she's already offered two of her lawyers who are statewide prosecutors that have previous capital experience," King said.
Former Orange-Osceola state attorney Jeff Ashton said he's seen instances where cases have been reassigned in the past, but nothing on such a large scale.
"It's obviously unprecedented, everything about this is unprecedented," Ashton said. "I think it's good that all these victims worried what's going to happen can rest easier knowing the governor is doing the right thing."
He added that shift could pose some difficulties for King's office, which is about two-thirds the size of Ayala's, he supports Scott's decision.
"Had the governor left the cases with Ms. Ayala, it would have potentially brought down the entire death penalty system in the entire state," Ashton said.
The 21 cases are in relation to Darell Avant, Demorris Hunter, David Payne, Larry Perry, Juan Rosario, Sanel Saint Simon, Dolan Darling, Steven Evans, David Frances, John Huggins, Sonny Jeffries, Jermaine Lebron, Derrick McLean, Lionel Miller, Robert Peede, Theodore Rogers, Jr.,Thomas Gudinas, Henry Sireci, Jr., Dusty Spencer, William White and Todd Zommer.
Fourteen of those men are currently on death row, but could appeal their sentences.