Gov. DeSantis removes Nicole Montalvo murder case from State Attorney Ayala amid fallout

High-profile murder case will be prosecuted by neighboring State Attorney Brad King

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Amid a spat between the Osceola County sheriff and the state attorney over murder charges in the slaying of a 33-year-old mother, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday he will remove the case from State Attorney Aramis Ayala and ask neighboring State Attorney Brad King to handle the prosecution.

DeSantis addressed reporters at the Osceola County Administration Building at 1 p.m. Friday, saying he did not ask to be involved in the case but after reviewing the evidence he felt compelled to do so.

The Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s office has not formally filed murder charges against Nicole Montalvo’s estranged husband, Christopher Otero-Rivera, and his father, Angel Rivera. The two men were arrested in late October after Montalvo’s dismembered remains were found on the St. Cloud area property belonging to the Rivera family. Both men remain in jail on other charges.

During a news conference earlier this month, Ayala pushed back against Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson in response to questions about why murder charges have not been officially filed.

According to Ayala, the sheriff still does not know who killed Montalvo.

It was after those public remarks that Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the governor’s office to take the case away from Ayala’s office.

On Friday, DeSantis granted that request, handing the case to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King through an executive order. King’s district includes Marion County.

“After review by my office and consultation with the Montalvo family, today I am issuing an executive reassignment of the Nicole Montalvo murder case to State Attorney Brad King of the Fifth Judicial Circuit,” DeSantis said in a tweet.

Ayala said during a news conference Friday afternoon that DeSantis’ executive order was inaccurate when it said she hindered the investigation and that her office was unwilling to pursue the death penalty.

She also claimed that DeSantis’ office consulted Gibson but never once reached out to her office before the case was reassigned.

“I also remind (prosecutors) that this is not a feud or a spat but a response to an extremely difficult decision that has been made even as they have continued to fight for justice day by day, as recently as earlier today before this executive order was issued,” Ayala said.

She closed by saying that the governor’s actions “violated all concepts of due process and equal protection.”

Montalvo’s brother was present for the announcement Friday and said her family supports the governor’s decision.

Osceola Sheriff awaiting governor's decision on Nicole Montalvo case

“Nicole was a loving daughter, mother, sister and friend to all who knew her,” her brother said. “We will not rest until justice is served.”

Gibson and Moody both thanked DeSantis for his decision.

“Our team is standing ready to assist and are eager to continue working to bring justice to Nicole Montalvo, her family, and the citizens of Osceola County. Thank you to those in our community who have respected the process and given support to the Montalvo family. We also want to take a moment to recognize the Montalvo family, the strength and dignity you have displayed as a family is second to none and our commitment to you is that we will never forget and never stop working for Nicole,” the sheriff’s office said.

Moody believes that reassigning the case was the best way to ensure that justice is served for Montalvo.

“As a former judge and prosecutor, I was unsettled by the situation in Osceola County and feared it was escalating in a manner not conducive to the ends of justice. With the appointment of State Attorney Brad King, I am encouraged that the Montalvo family will receive the justice they deserve,” Moody said.

This is not the first time Ayala has had cases removed from her office.

Former Gov. Rick Scott removed seven first-degree murder cases from Ayala’s office in 2017 after she said she would not seek the death penalty in any case. Those cases were removed after the arrest of Marketih Loyd, who was accused of shooting and killing an Orlando police Lt. Deborah Clayton while on the run for murder charges in connection with the shooting of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon. In October, Loyd was sentenced to life in prison for Dixon’s slaying.

After Ayala sued the governor, the Florida Supreme Court sided with Scott ruling he had the authority to remove her from those cases.

Ayala, who will not seek re-election this year, later announced her office would develop a panel to decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not the death penalty should be sought.

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