No cases removed from state attorney's office have ended in death sentences, yet

Gov. Scott removed cases from SA after she declined to pursue death penalty

By Louis Bolden - Investigative Reporter

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - When Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced last year that her office would not seek the death penalty, Gov. Rick Scott's reaction was swift: He reassigned 30 cases to neighboring State Attorney Brad King, along with more than a million dollars from Ayala's budget.

"If someone does a heinous crime, they ought to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Scott said.

Ayala sued Scott, claiming that the governor unconstitutionally deprived the "democratically elected" state attorney of her position by removing the cases. In a 5-2 opinion, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Ayala's blanket prohibition against the death penalty provided the governor with "good and sufficient reason" to remove those cases from her office.
 
Of those cases transferred, four have made it through the judicial process and so far, not one has ended in a death sentence.

[Death penalty prosecution: How nearby districts compare to Orange-Osceola]
    
Earlier this month a jury found Darell Avant guilty of first-degree murder for killing his 5-year-old son. The jury recommended he be sentenced to life in prison instead of the death penalty.

In April, a jury found Sanel Saint-Simon guilty of killing his ex-girlfriend's 16-year-old daughter Alexandria Chery. They recommended life in prison.

Florida statute requires juries be unanimous in seeking the death penalty, and two of the 12 jurors voted for life. However, even a unanimous jury is no guarantee that the death penalty will be carried out.

In March, Larry Perry was convicted of killing his infant son. A jury unanimously recommended death for Perry, but he was granted a Spencer Hearing, which allows defendants to present evidence to change penalties. After the hearing, the judge sentenced Perry to life in prison. 

Last month, Juan Rosario was convicted of murdering his 83-year-old neighbor, Elena Ortega. The jury recommended the death penalty, but Rosario was also granted a Spencer Hearing which is now scheduled for September.

The judge will have the final say. 

News 6 legal analyst Steven Kramer said death penalty cases are costly to prosecute and require a lot of resources.

"If Brad King pursues the death penalty in virtually every one of these cases and is unsuccessful in having the death penalty imposed on any of these defendants, the optics on that are just not going to look right," Kramer said.

Kramer said some people may look at prosecuting death  penalty cases and wonder if it was a waste of resources.

The last person to be sentenced to death in Orange County was Bessman Okafor in 2015. However, because of a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that death sentences have to be unanimous, he will be resentenced later this year.

News 6 contacted Brad King's office for comment but did not hear back in time for this story.

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