Governor could yank murder-for-hire case from Ayala, Scott's attorney warns

Lawyer asks SAO to consider 'appropriate penalties' in Kissimmee case

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - Gov. Rick Scott's office sent a letter Tuesday to Orange Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala asking her to confirm that her office will consider capital punishment in a recent Kissimmee first-degree murder case.

Detectives with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said Janice Zengotita-Torres, 42, of Kissimmee, was killed as a botched murder-for-hire plot on Jan. 8.

Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson said Ishnar Lopez Ramos hired Alexis Ramos Rivera and his girlfriend, Glorianmarie Quinones Montes, to kill a romantic rival, but they mistook Zengotita-Torres for the intended victim and killed her. 

Gibson said once the suspects figured out they had the wrong woman they killed her anyway.
Ramos, Montes and Rivera are charged with second-degree murder, which does not carry the weight of the death penalty, but those charges could later be upgraded.

Scott has previously said he thinks Ayala's office should pursue the death penalty in this case.

On Tuesday, the governor's general counsel, Daniel Norby sent a letter to Ayala reminding her that he can and will remove cases from her office, similar to the 30 first-degree murder cases he removed last year after the state attorney said she would not seek death in any cases.

"I write today regarding the murder of Janice Zengotita-Torres recently in Central Florida," Norby said in the letter. As you know Gov. Scott continues to stand with victims and their families and believes there is no place in Florida for those who would commit such a senseless horrific crime."

After losing a lawsuit against Scott last year, Ayala said she will allow a panel of assistant state attorney's to determine if the office will seek death. The seven-member panel must be unanimous in their decision, similar to a jury.

That commitment came under question in November when the Ninth Judicial State Attorney's Office failed to file a death notice in another recent Osceola County homicide case.

In the letter to Ayala, Norby reminds the state attorney that Scott will remove cases from her office and give them to another state attorney if he thinks she is not holding up her commitment.

"Please confirm that this statement continues to reflect your position and that your office will seek appropriate penalties and sentences for those responsible for the death of Janice Zengotita-Torres," Norby writes.

Last week, state Rep. Bob Cortes, who represents District 30, which includes portions of Seminole County, sent a letter to Scott asking him to remove the case from Ayala’s office.
In response, the state attorney’s public information officer, Eryka Washington, said Cortes did not have all the facts.

"The author of the letter may not be aware this issue has been resolved," Washington said in an email. "State Attorney Ayala will continue to seek justice, fight for victims and follow the law."

In response to a comment request for this story News 6 received this statement from the state attorney:

"My position and process has already been made clear if there are any changes I will make it known publicly," Ayala said.

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