ORLANDO, Fla. - Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced Tuesday that she will not seek reelection for a second term.
In the three-minute video (watch below), Ayala mentioned her controversial stance on the death penalty.
"Death penalty law in the state of Florida is in direct conflict with my view and my vision for the administration of justice," Ayala said. "It's time for me to move forward and to continue the pursuit of justice in a different capacity."
Ayala, the first African American state attorney in Florida, was sworn into office as the leader of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida on Jan. 3, 2017. Prior to being elected, Ayala served as an assistant state attorney and an assistant public defender, but she was largely unknown to voters.
George Soros, a liberal billionaire, donated $1.4 million to a political action committee that purchased campaign ads supporting Ayala. The TV ads flooded households, delivering Ayala's message to voters.
Ayala ultimately won the election over former State Attorney Jeff Ashton.
Just over two months after being sworn into office, Ayala held a news conference in March 2017 and made an announcement that surprised many voters and employees in her office.
Ayala announced that her office would no longer seek the death penalty in any case, a decision that made national headlines.
The controversial announcement came after the Orlando Police Department had recently arrested Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton.
Ayala's death-penalty decision was not a popular one among law enforcement or then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who signed an executive order stripping Ayala's office of dozens of potential death-penalty cases, including Loyd's.
Loyd's case was reassigned to Fifth Judicial Circuit Prosecutor Brad King, marking the beginning of a months-long legal battle between Ayala and Scott. Ayala sued the governor and lost, with the Florida Supreme Court ruling that Scott had the authority to reassign first-degree murder cases to a different prosecutor.
Following the ruling, Ayala announced she would follow the Supreme Court's decision, and she set up a death penalty review panel in her office to independently evaluate cases and determine whether to seek the death penalty.
"The death penalty law in the state of Florida is in direct conflict with my view and my vision for the administration of justice," Ayala said in the video.
Ayala has since had very vocal critics, but she has also had supporters.
Since taking office, she has been recognized by the Central Florida Victim Services Network and Florida Parents of Murdered Children. She also received the NAACP's 2017 Civil Rights Champion of Justice Award, according to the office's website.
During her tenure, Ayala implemented a new policy so offenders arrested for some nonviolent misdemeanors aren’t required to pay bail to be released from jail. She also fought to issue only civil citations for nonviolent juvenile first time offenders, versus arresting them.
“A lot of kids are just embarrassed enough by the arrest itself and how they hurt their family that it doesn’t happen again, so taking a chance on a kid, there’s nothing wrong with that,” said chief public defender Robert Wesley.
Wesley Knows the state attorney well and told News 6 he supports her journey. He said before she became the state attorney, she at one point worked for him as a public defender.
“She’s smart, she’s caring, capable, she’s very, very ethical,” said Wesley.
Rafael Zaldivar son’s case was reassigned from Ayala’s office to a different prosecutor. His son was a key witness for a home invasion case and shot dead back in 2012.
“She made critical mistakes. Her job was to prosecute cases, her job was not to set policies,” said Zaldivar.
The state attorney also faced more controversy when her husband voted illegally as an ex-felon saying he was simply unaware of Florida’s law.
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