Aramis Ayala used direct verbiage from anti-death penalty group, emails show

State attorney consulted few death penalty supporters

ORLANDO, Fla. – Emails obtained by News 6 show that embattled Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala used direct phrasing from an anti-death penalty group during a March 16 news conference in which she announced her office would not pursue capital punishment cases. 

On February 15, Stefanie Faucher of the 8th Amendment Project emailed a message to Ayala that read, "It was really great speaking to you yesterday. I look forward to working with you to support your decision."

The organization believes the death penalty is unconstitutional, according to its website.

Attached to Faucher’s email was a document titled “The Death Penalty is Broken Beyond Repair," which Faucher referred to as a “message map," that outlined several concerns with capital punishment.

Addressing the potential harm to victims, the document states, “The death penalty traps victims’ families in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty (and) court hearings ... (while) forcing them to endure years of waiting for an execution that may never come.”

One month later, during a news conference announcing she would not be pursuing death penalty cases, Ayala repeated several of those phrases, some nearly word-for-word, News 6 has discovered.

“I have learned that death penalty traps many victims’ families in decades-long cycle of uncertainty, court hearings, appeals and waiting,” Ayala said.  “They are left waiting for an execution that may never occur."

A state attorney spokeswoman dismissed the similarities, pointing out that the document Ayala received from the anti-death penalty organization referenced topics that Ayala never discussed in her news conference, such as the risk of executing innocent inmates. 

Ayala’s news conference also noted other reasons for opposing the death penalty not included in the document, such as Ayala’s belief that the death penalty does not deter crime, a spokeswoman said.

Ayala's office reiterated to News 6 on Tuesday that Ayala arrived at her decision to not seek the death penalty shortly before her news conference announcing her opposition to it.

“From the time she took office, (Aramis Ayala) 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,” state attorney spokeswoman Eryka Washington said.

Emails obtained by News 6 confirm that Ayala communicated with several organizations that oppose the death penalty, including Fair and Just Prosecution, Fair Punishment Project and the 8th Amendment Project.

When News 6 inquired about death penalty supporters who Ayala consulted, Washington identified only one by name: Deborah Barra, Ayala's chief assistant, who has worked for the state attorney's office for more than 12 years.

Barra disagrees with her boss' decision not to pursue death penalty cases, Washington said.

Besides Barra, the state attorney spokeswoman said Ayala also consulted with the African American Council of Christian Clergy (AACCC), which Washington originally described as being "pro-death penalty".

"That is absolutely false," said AACCC president Bishop Kelvin Cobaris, who denies his organization met with Ayala as she was researching capital punishment.

"There was a meeting held the day before (Ayala's) announcement was made," Cobaris said.  "She spoke to us about what she was doing."

Cobaris also disputes the state attorney office's characterization that AACCC supports the death penalty.

"Our organization cannot make that statement," Cobaris said. "That is not our stance, for or against (the death penalty)."

The state attorney spokeswoman later acknowledged she had mistakenly described the AACCC as being in support of the death penalty. Instead, Ayala spoke with a few specific members of the religious organization who were personally in favor of capital punishment, Washington said.

The state attorney spokeswoman did not immediately provide News 6 with the names of those clergy members. 

"The AACCC does not mandate positions on controversial matters, but respects the varied opinions of our individual constituency," said Cobaris.  "Any statement of position claimed to have been made by the AACCC on the issue of State Attorney Aramis Ayala's position on the death penalty is inaccurate and may or may not reflect the opinions of members of the organization, but not the organization as a whole."

Despite the state attorney's prior statement that Ayala spoke with people "on all sides of the issue who were involved with the criminal justice system," Washington provided no indication that Ayala sought advice from any legal experts outside of her own office who support the death penalty.

Ayala's March 16 news conference focused on Markeith Loyd, who is accused of murder in the shooting deaths of Sade Dixon and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton. Ayala said she would not pursue the death penalty against Loyd, before adding that she would not seek death in any case that she prosecutes.

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