ORLANDO, Fla. – Even though the 2020 election is more than a year and a half away, candidates from the federal, state and local level are already filing paperwork to run for office.
Ryan Williams, a longtime assistant state attorney in Florida's 9th and 5th Judicial Circuits, kicked off his campaign for Orange-Osceola State Attorney in February. He was one of the dozens of attorneys and staff who left the 9th Circuit after State Attorney Aramis Ayala took office.
"I believe in justice for victims," Williams said. "I know that sounds quaint, but the only way you can do that is by following the law. It was clear to me pretty early on that was not Ms. Ayala's primary focus."
Williams said he resigned immediately following Ayala's announcement that she would no longer pursue the death penalty in capital murder cases.
"I disagreed with it vehemently," Williams said. "At the time, I was prosecuting four of the capital cases that the office had going, and I had sat with a survivor of homicide when Ms. Ayala pretended to listen to their story for purposes of making her decision on the death penalty. I say pretended because I found out later that she had already been communicating with anti-death penalty groups via email well before that meeting took place."
"She chose to spend an hour with survivors -- making them cry and re-live the worst thing that's happened to them -- because she wanted to have optics," Williams continued. "And as I sat and listened to her talk at the press conference it was in my mind the entire time. I knew at that point that I was not long for that office as long as she was going to be there."
Since then, Williams has been handling the homicide cases that former Gov. Rick Scott moved from the 9th Judicial Circuit to the 5th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses much of the Ocala area. His office is located at the Orange County jail.
While he's not a huge proponent of the death penalty, Williams says it's still Florida law.
"I believe in the law," Williams said. "I've spent more than a decade trying to uphold and follow it, and I don't think a personal agenda should dominate your decision-making when prosecuting cases. I think it has real-world impacts on our community."
Some of Williams' other platforms include improving diversionary programs for low-level crimes and first-time offenders and ensuring drug addicts get the treatment and assistance they need, not just incarceration.
When asked what his thoughts were on the controversial 'Stand Your Ground' law, Williams replied, "Without commenting on a specific case, I would just say that there are some instances that are pretty black and white. I think it needs constant adjustment."
Ayala has yet to file for reelection.
Watch the full interview Sunday at 8 a.m. on News 6.
Related coverage and reading:
- Former assistant to Aramis Ayala running against her for state attorney
- State Attorney Ayala's office to seek death penalty for first time
- Gov. Rick Scott wins legal battle against State Attorney Aramis Ayala
- No cases removed from state attorney's office have ended in death sentences, yet
- Outgoing prosecutor: Ayala's personal views got in the way