Ayala ignores questions about special interest groups

State Attorney regularly communicates with death penalty foes, records show

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala has not explained her relationship with several anti-death penalty special interest groups, despite News 6's repeated requests for comment on the matter.

Since taking office in January, a News 6 investigation revealed that Ayala has exchanged dozens of emails and text messages with Miriam Krinsky and Stefanie Faucher. 

The women, who work with organizations seeking to abolish the death penalty, have offered Ayala numerous suggestions and advice on how to handle her controversial announcement that her office would not seek the death penalty in any case, records show.

On Monday, News 6 reported that  Faucher offered to help the state attorney draft answers to specific questions with which Ayala needed help

"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 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.

When News 6 contacted Ayala's office Monday, the state attorney’s General Counsel, Kamilah Perry, indicated Ayala was out of the office and would not be able to provide comment until the following day.

Hours later, Perry emailed a statement to News 6 that did not specifically address Ayala's relationship with Faucher or Krinsky, nor did it explain what the state attorney meant by "the Soros question".

"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," the statement read.

Since then, follow-up emails from News 6 to Ayala, Perry, and the state attorney's public information officer have gone unanswered.

Who are Ayala's advisors?

Krinsky and Faucher have not responded to emails and phone calls from News 6 seeking information about their organizations and their relationship with Ayala.

Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor who served as the executive director of Los Angeles County's Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, is now the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution.

Krinsky's new organization provides "guidance, assistance and networked support to recently elected prosecutors committed to change and innovation as they seek to implement criminal justice system policy and practice reforms in their offices," according to a philanthropy that awarded a grant to Fair and Just Prosecution.

Krinsky is also a legal advisor to the Fair Punishment Project, an organization that believes the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.

Faucher is the communications director for the 8th Amendment Project, an organization that is "working to illuminate the growing national consensus against the death penalty and to expose the reality that death penalty in America is too broken to fix", according to its website.

Communications have occurred since January

Records obtained by News 6 show that Ayala was in contact with Miriam Krinsky no later than her first three weeks in office.

"Miriam reached out to me today.  Please feel free to call me if I can be of assistance," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon wrote to Ayala in a Jan. 23 text message.

The following week, Krinsky introduced Ayala to Stefanie Faucher in an email.

"Stef has some great ideas (along with Rob) around how to roll out, support, and message your announcement," Krinsky wrote.

Krinsky's message referred to Rob Smith, a Fair Punishment Project staff member.

"I think you were planning to send on your prior statement on the DP [death penalty].  It would be really helpful to see that," Krinsky wrote to the state attorney.

The January email does not specify what "announcement" Ayala was planning. 

Ayala has repeatedly insisted that it was not until mid-March, after Gov. Rick Scott signed a revised death penalty statute into law, that she decided her office would not pursue capital punishment.

"It would be premature for me to take a position before a statute had been enacted," Ayala said during a March 16 news conference.

Krinksy has exchanged more than 40 emails and text messages with Ayala, records obtained by News 6 show.

Besides convening a Fair and Just Prosecution meeting of about 20 researchers and legal experts that occurred inside Ayala's downtown Orlando office building in late February, emails show Krinsky also advised the state attorney on how to  announce her office's policy against seeking capital punishment.

"Trying to handle damage control right now.  Victims’ families don't know.  My office doesn't know," Ayala texted Krinsky on March 15 as details of her upcoming announcement began prematurely leaking to the press.

"I suggest not confirming the rumors until you can release your full statement and frame the announcement," Krinsky advised in a text message.  "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."

The following day, as Ayala prepared to hold a news conference on the courthouse steps, Krinsky attempted to obtain an early copy of the state attorney's speech, presumably to generate publicity.

"Aramis, please email us the final written statement we can use ASAP!" Krinsky texted the state attorney about 30 minutes prior to the event.  "We want to send it out embargoed to national media."

Two days after Governor Scott announced he would be reassigning the Markeith Loyd murder case to a different state attorney's office, Krinsky offered reassurance to the new prosecutor.

"You DID consider the facts and the aggravation and the potential mitigation in the Loyd case, and you considered the views of the family members involved, as well as other statutory and constitutional obligations that you are obligated to follow," Krinsky wrote Ayala in a lengthy text message.  "You tried to explain that to the governor but he didn't want to listen."

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