ORLANDO, Fla. – News 6 has obtained emails between Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala and several anti death-penalty groups outside of Florida through a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to the emails, Ayala was seeking advice from death-penalty experts on how to deal with push-back ahead of her decision to not seek the death penalty for a high-profile case in Orlando.
Ayala came under fire after she announced in March that she wouldn't seek the death penalty in the case of Markeith Loyd or any other case. Loyd is charged with killing an Orlando police lieutenant earlier this year and his pregnant ex-girlfriend last year.
Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the Fair and Just Persecution, offered up language to Ayala in a February email correspondence on how to respond to questions about an "upcoming case.”
In an email to News 6 Krinsky said her organization works with recently elected prosecutors around the nation, including Ayala.
"As part of that work, we network with and share expertise and information with prosecutors, national experts, academicians and others on a wide array of criminal justice issues," she said.
Ayala also communicated with the Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project and the 8th Amendment Project for advice on dealing with blowback if she did not seek the death penalty, emails obtained by News 6 show.
The 8th Amendment Project had a $1 million budget and six full time staff members in 2015, reported Buzzfeed.
Henderson Hill, a longtime litigator and anti death-penalty advocate is the executive director of the 8th Amendment Project.
In his role, Hill coordinates and drives “legal, political, and public policy agenda,” and to “implement robust fundraising and communications strategies," according to the Proteus Fund website.
The organization also shares leadership with the Fair Punishment Project.
Rob Smith, who was copied on the February email with Ayala, is the director of the Fair Punishment Project and serves as the litigation director for the 8th Amendment Project.
Soon after Ayala’s announcement, Smith praised her decision to not seek any death-penalty cases while in office.
“Florida’s death penalty is deeply flawed,” Smith wrote in a statement on Fairpunishment.org. “Not only have innocent men and woman been sentenced to death, but individuals with crippling mental impairments have also faced capital punishment."
Smith said Ayala “should be commended for her commitment to justice, fairness, and the inherent dignity of all human beings.”
"The Fair Punishment Project is a research institute with a mission to create a fair and accountable justice system through the promotion of public discourse, the dissemination of information, and educational initiatives," Smith said in an email to News 6.
The 8th Amendment Project is backed by the Themis Fund, a national effort to abolish the death penalty, according to their website, and was started as an initiative of the Proteus Fund in 2007.
The Proteus Fund, a 501(c)3 in Amherst, Massachusetts, awarded $17.4 million in grants in 2016, according to the nonprofit's website.
Several of the grantees were capital-punishment litigation or resource groups, including the 8th Amendment Project.
Other groups against the death penalty that received funding from the Proteus fund included the Florida Center for Capital Representation at Florida International University, Florida Institute for Reform & Empowerment, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, North Carolina, Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the Arizona Capital Representation Project.
News 6 reached out to the State Attorney’s Office for comment about her interaction with the special interest groups.
State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Eryka Washington said the correspondence was part of Ayala’s “process researching and consulting with people on all sides of the issue,” prior to her decision and announcement on March 16.
“From the time she took office she has been extensively researching the death penalty speaking to people including her executive team and organizations on all sides of the issue who are involved with the criminal justice system,” Washington said.