Aramis Ayala sought advice on answering 'Soros question'

Texts, emails show state attorney's coordination with death penalty foes

ORLANDO, Fla. – Text messages and emails from Aramis Ayala's personal Gmail account show substantial communications between the state attorney and anti-death penalty organizations, records obtained by News 6 show.

Two days after Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty in any case, an out-of-state death penalty opponent sent text messages to the state attorney offering to assist Ayala with answering certain questions.

"I think having a few points in writing would be very helpful," wrote Stefanie Faucher, the communications director for the 8th Amendment Project, a North Carolina organization that believes the death penalty is unconstitutional.

"I'd be happy to review any written points or help draft answers to specific questions that you want help with," Faucher wrote in the text message, records show.

"Stephanie (sic) that would be great. Thank you," Ayala replied in a text message minutes later.  "Can you draft please?"

"Do you need help with all of the questions or just specific questions?" Faucher responded.

"The Soros question and the general question on DP (death penalty)," Ayala texted back, records show.

Ayala was presumably referring to George Soros, the liberal billionaire to who donated $1.4 million to a political action committee that purchased campaign ads supporting Ayala.

The state attorney has repeatedly denied having any contact with her wealthy benefactor and claims Soros’s views on the death penalty did not shape her office's policy.

State attorney's office records obtained by News 6 do not specify what Ayala meant by "the Soros question" in her text message, nor do they indicate what answers, if any, Faucher provided in response.

Ayala did not respond to News 6's questions about that particular text message exchange, although her office did provide a statement about Ayala's previous communications with death penalty foes.

"As any responsible official would do, and as she has previously said, State Attorney Ayala went through an extensive process researching and consulting with various criminal justice experts about Florida's death penalty in early 2017," State Attorney's Office General Counsel Kamilah Perry wrote in an email to News 6.

A News 6 investigation revealed the state attorney only spoke with one legal expert who supported the death penalty: Deborah Barra, Ayala's chief assistant who works in the same building.

Faucher did not respond to phone and email messages from News 6 seeking comment.

Death penalty stance leaked before official announcement

Less than 24 hours before Ayala held a news conference in March announcing her office would never seek capital punishment, reporters from several news organizations began contacting her office trying to confirm leaked reports about her intentions, records indicate.

"Trying to handle damage control right now. Victims' families don't know. My office doesn't know," Ayala wrote in a text message around 3 p.m. March 15, records show.

The text message was sent to Miriam Krinsky, a legal adviser to the Fair Punishment Project, an organization that considers the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment.   

Krinsky did not respond to questions from News 6.

"I suggest not confirming the rumors until you can release your full statement and frame the announcement," Krinsky replied to Ayala about 40 minutes later.

The media reports were more than just rumors. Records obtained from the state attorney's office confirm Ayala had begun working on a rough draft of her death penalty speech at least four days prior to the official announcement.

"You can also add that you had been waiting until you could speak with all the families but were forced to announce before they had all been notified," Krinsky wrote in a text message to Ayala.

About 90 minutes later, Faucher sent an email to Ayala's personal Gmail account titled "Suggestions for how to proceed."

Copied on the email were several other death penalty opponents, including Krinsky and two other representatives of the Fair Punishment Project.

"We just talked, and wanted to share some of our thinking with you on ways you can proceed and how we can help," Faucher wrote.  "We know you are scrambling right now."

If details about Ayala's upcoming death penalty announcement had been leaked to multiple media outlets and could not be contained, Faucher suggested that Ayala should send out a statement that night explaining that she intended to meet with all of the victims' families before the decision was made public.

"I'm drafting some possible language right now," Faucher wrote Ayala.

In what was described as "Plan B," Faucher suggested that Ayala "call a press conference for the soonest time available tomorrow (in case other leaks occur)."

At 10 the following morning, Ayala stood at a podium in front of the Orange County Courthouse and, for the first time, confirmed her intentions to never seek the death penalty.

"Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to speak to every victim's family who this decision has impacted because of circumstances beyond by control," Ayala said in response to a reporter's question at the event.  "Before I had made the announcement, it was my intent out of respect for the victims to speak to every single family."

About a half hour before Ayala made her controversial announcement, a death penalty opponent sent a text message to the state attorney attempting to get an early copy of her comments.

"Aramis, please email us the final written statement we can use ASAP! We want to sent it out embargoed to national media," Krinsky texted Ayala, records show.

"It should only be released from my office. Please," replied the state attorney.



About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.