Lawmaker wants Aramis Ayala to be removed from murder-for-hire case

'This issue has been resolved,' state attorney says

By Daniel Dahm - Digital Manager

ORLANDO, Fla. - A state representative asked Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday to bar State Attorney Aramis Ayala from prosecuting an alleged botched murder-for-hire that left a woman dead in Osceola County.

Rep. Bob Cortes, who represents District 30, which includes portions of Seminole County, sent a letter to Scott saying the homicide of Janice Zengotita-Torres was a "particularly heinous crime and an unspeakable tragedy."

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, 42, of Kissimmee, for the intended victim and killed her.

Ramos was arrested Thursday night while using Zengotita-Torres' card to withdraw cash from an ATM in the area, according to authorities. Gibson said she was wearing Zengotita-Torres' clothing when she was arrested. 

Officials said Ramos confessed and implicated Montes and Rivera, who were arrested at a hotel in Orange County. All three face first-degree murder charges.

Ayala made headlines last March when she announced that she wouldn't seek the death penalty against Markeith Loyd, who is accused of shooting and killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton. Loyd will stand trial in the death of Sade Dixon in September. A trial in Clayton's death is scheduled for January 2019.

Ayala also said at the time that her office would not seek the death penalty in any case because there is no evidence of improved public safety for citizens or law enforcement with the death penalty, and that death penalty cases were costly and drag on for years.

"She has proven her lack of objectivity in seeking appropriate justice in capital cases," Cortes said in the letter. "For the sake of Mrs. Zengotita-Torres's family, please reassign this case to a state attorney willing to pursue the death penalty."

In a statement, Ayala'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."

A spokesperson for Scott said his officer is reviewing the matter.

"Governor Scott has made it clear that Florida has absolutely zero tolerance for crime and he will continue to stand with victims and their families," Kerri Wyland, with the governor's press office, said.

Scott removed Ayala from more than 20 death penalty cases in Orange and Osceola counties, prompting a lawsuit from Ayala. The Florida Supreme Court, however, ruled against Ayala, saying that Scott had the authority to remove state attorneys from cases and that state attorneys must consider the death penalty on a case-by-case basis instead of a blanket prohibition against it.  

In September, Ayala reversed course and announced that a seven-attorney panel in her office would review all first-degree murder cases to decide if the death penalty is appropriate. In late October, Ayala announced her office would seek the death penalty in a case, which was later learned to involve Emerita Mapp, who was accused of stabbing a 20-year-old man to death.

Mapp pleaded no contest, however, and was sentenced to life in prison after her case had many issues, including Ayala missing a deadline to submit paperwork to seek death against her.

Ayala''s office announced in December that the death penalty will be sought against Jimmy Merritt, who's accused of beating a man to death with a hammer, and shooting and killing a neighbor. She also is seeking the death penalty against Scott Nelson, who is accused of killing a Winter Park caretaker.

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