ORLANDO, Fla. - Ending months of waiting, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Gov. Rick Scott does have the authority to remove cases from states attorneys, including Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
Ayala said in March that she would not pursue capital punishment for any cases during her time in office. The announcement was met with criticism from the governor, families of homicide victims and law enforcement.
Scott began removing potential death penalty cases, starting with Markeith Loyd, who is accused of shooting and killing Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton. The governor gave 30 cases in all to neighboring State Attorney Brad King.
Ayala filed a lawsuit in April alleging that Scott was overstepping his authority by issuing a series of executive orders to reassign capital punishment cases. The Florida Supreme Court determined Thursday that the governor was acting within his power.
Below are the reaction from Florida officials about the decision:
Today’s ruling is a great victory for the many victims and families whose lives have been forever changed by ruthless, evil acts of crime. I absolutely disagreed with State Attorney Ayala’s shortsighted decision to not fight for justice. That’s why I’ve used my executive authority to reassign nearly 30 cases to State Attorney Brad King. These horrific cases include Markeith Loyd, an accused cop killer who murdered his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando Police Department Lt. Debra Clayton; Everett Glenn Miller, another alleged cop killer who is accused of ambushing and murdering two Kissimmee Police Officers, Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Sam Howard; and Callene Marcia Barton and Lakesha Chantell Lewis, who are accused of killing a helpless toddler.
Crimes like these are pure evil and deserve the absolute full consideration of punishment – something that State Attorney Ayala completely ruled out. She unilaterally decided to not stand on the side of victims and their families, which is completely sickening. In Florida, we hold criminals fully accountable for the crimes they commit – especially those that attack our law enforcement community and innocent children.
Gov. Rick Scott
I respect the decision and appreciate that the Supreme Court of Florida has responded and provided clarification.
The Supreme Court of Florida ruled (Thursday) that a case-specific determination must be made on first-degree murder cases. To ensure (the) court’s decision is heeded, I have organized a Death Penalty Review Panel comprised of 7 well-versed and experienced Assistant State Attorneys. This panel will evaluate each first-degree murder case in the 9th Judicial Circuit.
With implementation of this panel, it is my expectation that going forward all first-degree murder cases that occur in my jurisdiction will remain in my office and be evaluated and prosecuted accordingly.
State Attorney Aramis Ayala
The governor's officer responded Thursday evening to Ayala's comments about forming a first-degree murder panel and said Scott does not plan to return any of the cases to her at this point.
Until State Attorney Ayala fully recants her statement that she will not seek the death penalty in any case, and the Governor is convinced that crime victims will be protected and justice will be served, our office does not plan to return any of the 29 cases that are being prosecuted by State Attorney Brad King. State Attorney Ayala needs to make it clear that her office will seek the death penalty as outlined in Florida law, when appropriate. State Attorney Ayala’s statement today leaves too much room for interpretation.
John Tupps, Governor Rick Scott’s communications director
The cases were assigned to us by the governor. We cannot “turn them back over” to the 9th Circuit. Only the Governor could revoke the assignments and send them back. As far as how Ms Ayala’s announced procedure will affect future cases, that too will be up to the Governor. He will decide whether to assign future cases or not. Until directed to do otherwise by the Governor, we will continue to prosecute the case that have been assigned, or that may be assigned, to us.
Ric Ridgway, with State Attorney Brad King's office
This ruling is certainly a victory for victims of crime and their families, especially for the colleagues, families and friends of fallen law enforcement officers," said Miami Shores Police Chief Kevin Lystad, the association president. "The Florida Police Chiefs Association feels very strongly that when an officer is harmed or killed, every sentencing option should be on the table. We appreciate that the court has affirmed this and we are very grateful for Gov. Scott's leadership on this issue.
Florida Police Chiefs Association president Kevin Lystad
We have a well-established system of jurisprudence in our nation and within the state of Florida. And I believe that system has worked in this instance.
As sheriff, I respect the rule of law and the wishes and survivors of violent crimes. May justice prevail in upcoming death penalty cases!
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings
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