Gov. Scott removes State Attorney Ayala from Markeith Loyd case

Ayala said she will fully cooperate with executive order

ORLANDO, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott has reassigned the Markeith Loyd case after State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced Thursday morning that she will not be seeking the death penalty.

Scott originally called for Ayala to recuse herself from the case. When she refused, Scott removed her from the case and assigned it to Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King in an executive order issued Thursday afternoon.

Loyd is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, 24-year-old Sade Dixon, in Pine Hills on Dec. 13 and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton at an Orlando Walmart on Jan. 9. He was arrested on Jan. 17, bringing a nine-day manhunt to an end.

"I am outraged and sickened by this loss of life and many families’ lives have been forever changed because of these senseless murders," Scott said. "These families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Markeith Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served.”

In an executive order, Scott wrote “the ends of justice will best be served and there is good and sufficient reason to order the assignment of another state attorney to discharge duties of State Attorney Aramis Ayala.”

Scott wrote that King accepted the assignment to prosecute Loyd.

[READ: State attorney won't seek death penalty for any cases]

King -- the Republican-elected chief prosecutor for Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties in Central Florida -- is the eighth applicant to replace Justice James E.C. Perry, who’s retiring at the end of the year.

King applied for the Florida Supreme Court vacancy in November.


Ayala cited time, resources and cost to taxpayers in her decision to not pursue the death penalty for Loyd or any other accused criminal. 

“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.

Ayala said she had a conversation with Scott at 3:20 p.m. Thursday, during which he declined to discuss her rationale.

"I have since learned he issued an Order removing my office from any cases related to Markeith Loyd." Ayala said. "Upon receipt of any lawful order, my office will follow that order and fully cooperate to ensure the successful prosecution of Markeith Loyd."

Law enforcement leaders in Central Florida were also disheartened by Ayala's decision.

“To put it bluntly: Law enforcement officers throughout Florida are outraged over the decision that was made in this case. I’ve also heard from many citizens who share the same feelings,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

He supported Scott's executive order and said the victims' families do as well.

"Her wish is that Markeith Loyd dies quickly, but if he must live, that he live and die in prison and never walk free again," Demings quoted Dixon's mother, Stephanie Dixon-Daniels, as saying.

She also said not pursuing the death penalty would be a "slap in the face" to law enforcement officers.

Orlando Police acting chief Robert Anzueto said Clayton's husband, Seth Clayton, believes the death penalty is the only way justice can be served in this case. 

“My closure will be when Markeith Loyd is six feet under,” Anzueto quoted Seth Clayton as saying.

Orlando police chief John Mina agreed.

"I have seen the video of Markeith Loyd executing Lt. Debra Clayton while she lay defenseless on the ground. She was given no chance to live. A cop killer -- who also killed his pregnant girlfriend -- should not be given that chance," Orlando police Chief John Mina said in a statement posted to Twitter. "The heinous crimes that he committed in our community are the very reason we have the death penalty as an option under the law."

[TIMELINE: How the hunt and capture of Markeith Loyd unfolded]

Florida politicians swiftly reacted to Ayala's Thursday morning news conference. Below is a compilation of their full statements.

Gov. Rick Scott 

“I want to be very clear, Lt. Debra Clayton was executed while she was laying on the ground fighting for her life. She was killed by an evil murderer who did not think twice about senselessly ending her life. I completely disagree with State Attorney Ayala’s decision and comments and I am asking her to recuse herself immediately from this case. She has made it abundantly clear that she will not fight for justice for Lt. Debra Clayton and our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.”

[ Read: Florida statues for removal of public officials]

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

"I believe in and support the use of the death penalty. The law in the State of Florida provides for the death penalty for the most heinous crimes. The crimes committed by Markeith Loyd are horrific and the death penalty is the appropriate consequence."

Orlando police Chief John Mina 

"I have spoken with the State Attorney (Aramis Ayala) and I'm extremely upset that she will not be seeking the death penalty for triple murderer Markeith Loyd. I have seen the video of Markeith Loyd executing Lt. Debra Clayton while she lay defenseless on the ground. She was given no chance to live. A cop killer -- who also killed his pregnant girlfriend -- should not be given that chance. The heinous crimes that he committed in our community are the very reason we have the death penalty as an option under the law."

Mina also provided additional comments during an interview with News 6. 

"If there was any a case for the death penalty,  I think this is the case. I'm sure she has seen the video as well. I have seen the video of Markeith Loyd standing over the helpless and defenseless Lt. Debra Clayton," Mina said. "He had the opportunity to run and flee to get away and escape, but he chose to stand there and fire multiple rounds into her helpless and defenseless body." 

"Any time that someone is gunned down in broad daylight-- you are talking about a person who took an oath to protect the community (and) was executed -- I do believe that is an aggravating factor that should warrant a death penalty." 

"But I don't think that anything that she says is going to change my opinion or my mind," Mina said. "I saw the video for myself. I've seen all the evidence. I've seen everything that she has in front of her, so  I truly believe that this is a case, if any case that needs to be a death penalty case. Let a jury decide that." 

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings

"State Attorney Ayala contacted me late Wednesday afternoon and advised me of her decision to not seek the death penalty in the murder trials involving Markeith Loyd. While it is her decision to make, the heinous nature of Loyd's crimes resulted in the murder of Sade Dixon, an unborn child, and Lt. Clayton.  Also, because of Loyd's actions, we lost Deputy Norm Lewis. I urge her to consider the wishes of the victims' families and try these cases with death as the penalty."

Attorney General Pam Bondi 

"State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s decision today sends a dangerous message to residents and visitors of the greater Orlando area—furthermore, it is a blatant neglect of duty and a shameful failure to follow the law as a constitutionally elected officer.”

State Attorney Phil Archer

"It is up to each State Attorney to decide how they will handle each and every criminal case that comes before them.  As State Attorney, we are granted immense power and broad discretion to make those decisions even if those decisions are unpopular or subject us to criticism."

"However, I do not agree with the conclusions about the death penalty that State Attorney Aramis Ayala has made in her statement today and believe the laws of Florida and court decisions have outlined the appropriate use of the death penalty. I want to make it clear to my community that I will continue to seek the death penalty in those cases that I believe are appropriate and where justice demands the ultimate sentence."

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood

"My opinion: The decision not to seek the death penalty against the ruthless, cold-blooded repeat killer Markeith Loyd was unconscionable."

Deborah Shearer - Diocese of Orlando and Catholic Charities of Central Florida

"As a Catholic community, we offer our prayers for the victims and their families and the family of Mr. Lloyd.  As Catholics, we believe that each person has dignity and should be protected. Killing is wrong whether done by an individual or the State."

"Everyone has a right to life but execution denies that right, so if a non-lethal means is available to keep people in society safe, then we should consider a sentence of life in prison without parole as a just punishment."

"Without question, horrible crimes are committed and human life should be protected. However, when the State executes the convicted in our name, it diminishes all citizens. State-sanctioned homicide perpetuates a culture of vengeance by teaching that the appropriate response to murder is the taking of another life."

"Let us end this cycle of violence and vengeance. May other state attorneys in Florida follow State Attorney Ayala’s example and no longer seek the death penalty."

Rep. Bob Cortes

“I am outraged by the decision of State Attorney Aramis Ayala not to seek the death penalty in the case of Markeith Loyd. This is a decision that should be arrived at by a jury of Markeith Loyd’s peers, and to take it off the table is a slap in the face to his victims and to the wider law enforcement community. 

"Heinous crimes like the ones committed by Mr. Loyd are the reason our law allows for the death penalty. Because we believe life is precious, justice for taking innocent life must be done. Senate Bill 280, which Gov. Scott recently signed, helps to ensure the integrity of our system by requiring jury decisions for the death penalty be unanimous. It is why the decision whether a person should live or die should be the decision of twelve jurors, not the personal feeling of a State Attorney.

"I have reached out to the Members of the Florida Legislature and our staff about the possibility of drafting legislation to ensure that our laws are followed. I am also seeking whether this is a possible violation of public integrity by our state attorney.

"The State Attorney owes the people an explanation for this appalling decision. But more importantly, she owes an explanation to the families of Lt. Clayton, Sade Dixon, her baby, and the men and women of law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day to protect us and all the residents of the state of Florida.”