OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Before the governor intervened, Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson wrote a letter to his office claiming that he and State Attorney Aramis Ayala didn’t see eye to eye when it came to the death penalty and that led to a discord when it came to the case of Nicole Montalvo.
The letter, dated Jan. 29, was written more than a week after Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody asked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office to reassign the case, citing a “dispute” between Gibson and Ayala that was “not conducive to the administration of fair and effective justice.”
She said Gibson contacted her and asked for the reassignment.
In his letter to the governor, Gibson wrote that the issue stemmed from comments he made shortly after the remains of the missing St. Cloud mother were found on a property belonging to her estranged husband and his family.
He asked during a news conference that death penalty be sought against whomever was responsible for the 33-year-old woman’s death. The next day, Ayala requested a meeting with Gibson.
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“During that meeting it became painfully obvious that the State Attorney was unhappy with my comments regarding the death penalty and she asked me to stop making comments regarding the death penalty. At that time she also indicated to us that the State Attorney’s Office would be seeking a first-degree murder indictment,” Gibson wrote.
Although Montalvo’s estranged husband, Christopher Otero-Rivera, and his father, Angel Rivera, have both been arrested, neither has been charged with murder.
Gibson alleges that since that meeting, it’s been difficult for his detectives to obtain evidence in the case.
“The State Attorney’s unwillingness to do everything possible to obtain justice flies in the face of her oath [of] office and led me to believe that the death penalty must be obstructing her ability to see this case properly,” Gibson said.
Gibson also referenced a news conference Ayala held on Jan. 17 during which she claimed that Gibson “has offered facts that are not true” and he arrested Rivera and Otero-Rivera too soon.
“Had the sheriff followed the advice and listened to my office, we would have an unlimited amount of time to gather sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution and conviction, which is exactly what Nicole and her family deserves,” Ayala said. “Without an arrest, speedy trial is not an issue. There is no statute of limitations in this case.”
Ultimately, DeSantis made the decision to reassign the Montalvo case to neighboring State Attorney Brad King. Then-Gov. Rick Scott did the same with dozens of cases after Ayala announced that her office wouldn’t be seeking the death penalty against accused cop killer Markeith Loyd or any other first-degree murder suspects.
Ayala has since said that her office would seek death when a panel finds it appropriate.
Gibson wrote that in this case, prosecutors at Ayala’s office refused to formally file first-degree murder charges because Montalvo’s cause of death hasn’t been released.
“Prosecutors all over the state have secured convictions for murder without knowing the manner of death,” Gibson said.
After the case was reassigned, Ayala said the governor’s decision “violated all concepts of due process and equal protection.”