State Attorney Ayala not alone in missing death penalty deadline

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi responses to missed deadlines differ

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

From left: State Attorney Aramis Ayala, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (bottom right) and Gov. Rick Scott.

ORLANDO, Fla. - When Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala missed a key deadline this fall to seek the death penalty against an accused murderer, Gov. Rick Scott blasted the elected prosecutor.

"It is absolutely outrageous that Aramis Ayala failed to seek justice in the case against Emerita Mapp," the governor said in a Nov. 17 statement. "I have been clear that I stand with the victims of crime and their families and they deserve answers from the State Attorney's Office on how this critical deadline was not met."

Likewise, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi expressed dismay with Ayala for missing the death penalty filing deadline by three weeks.

"What (Ayala) did is inexcusable in failing to meet a deadline required in a capital case," Bondi said in a statement earlier this week. "In no way do we condone her behavior.  She continues to demonstrate that she is incompetent and unwilling to handle capital cases."

Yet when David Aronberg, the state attorney of Palm Beach County, recently missed a similar deadline to seek the death penalty in a murder case there, Scott and Bondi offered no public criticism.

Likewise, the governor and attorney general have not publicly demanded answers from Aronberg about why his office missed the filing deadline by two weeks.

“Only State Attorney Ayala has issued a blanket statement that their office wouldn't seek the death penalty,” the governor’s office told News 6.

Representatives with Scott’s office did not answer specific questions posed by News 6, including whether the governor had contacted the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office about its delinquent death penalty filing.

"This is like comparing apples and oranges," said Bondi's spokesperson, Whitney Ray, who confirmed the attorney general’s office has not issued any statements critical of Aronberg’s missed death penalty deadline.

“State Attorney Ayala has been defiant in following the law, whereas Aronberg's office made one mistake," Ray said.

Palm Beach County prosecutor misses death penalty deadline

In October, Aronberg's office was 14 days late in filing court papers required to seek the death penalty against Tashane Chantiloupe.

Authorities in Boca Raton said Chantiloupe gunned down an acquaintance who had been a key witness in a previous criminal case against the accused murderer.

Under Florida law, prosecutors must file a notice to seek the death penalty within 45 days of the defendant's arraignment.

Aronberg's spokesperson declined to comment on why the deadline was missed, saying it would be in appropriate to comment on a specific case that is still being prosecuted by their office.

Aronberg has filed a motion in court attempting to seek capital punishment against Chantiloupe despite missing the filing deadline.

Unlike Aronberg, Ayala has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty.

"(Aronberg's) office seeks death in approximately 35 percent of all first-degree murder cases and Ayala seeks them in none," Ray said. "(It's) an oversight versus a state attorney who refuses to follow the law."

Ayala previously fought death penalty

While Ayala has not personally directed her office to seek capital punishment, a panel of her employees tasked with making such decisions has filed death penalty notices in three homicide cases, two of which remain open.

Ayala has previously expressed reluctance to seek capital punishment, citing its high cost, lack of deterrence and lengthy appeals process. In March, Ayala announced her office would not seek capital punishment in any case prosecuted by her office.

Ayala's decision prompted Scott to reassign more than two dozen potential death penalty cases to a neighboring state attorney's office. In response, Ayala unsuccessfully sued the governor, claiming he overstepped his authority by removing cases from her office.

After the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Ayala had a legal obligation to consider capital punishment on a case-by-case basis rather than implementing a blanket policy against it, the state attorney established a panel of prosecutors to review potential death penalty cases.

Since September, Ayala's seven-member panel has unanimously recommended capital punishment in three cases, including Mapp.

In Mapp's case, Ayala blamed the missed death penalty filing deadline on Scott for failing to reassign the case to neighboring State Attorney Brad King.

"The governor missed it," Ayala told News 6, pointing out that other murder cases filed before and after Mapp's arrest had been reassigned to King. "If you look at the timeline, it was the governor who said he was reviewing it."

“It is outrageous State Attorney Ayala is attempting to pass the blame for her failure," Scott said in response.  "Let’s be clear – State Attorney Ayala failed to meet this deadline and she alone is responsible for not fighting for justice for the victims in this case."

Last week, Ayala announced that Mapp had agreed to a plea deal in which she will be sentenced to life in prison.

"The prosecutor felt it was in the best interest of justice to honor the offer (of life in prison), which was relayed prior to the 45-day (death penalty notice) deadline," Ayala said. "As a result of this plea, Emerita Mapp will ultimately die in prison and the family of the victims will not have to endure the long and difficult process associated with a death penalty trial."

Ayala cites missed deadline in Palm Beach County case

In a letter sent to the governor Monday, Ayala referred to the Chantiloupe case now being prosecuted in Palm Beach County.

In that case, the state attorney's office has filed a motion arguing that the delay in filing a death penalty notice has not violated the accused murderer's rights.

"To automatically punish the state for the two-week delay in this nascent capital case would improperly elevate form over substance," Aronberg wrote.

In the motion, Aronberg cites several Florida laws he believes will allow him to seek the death penalty against Chantiloupe despite the missed deadline.

Prior to reaching a plea agreement with Mapp, Ayala suggested her office might use a similar legal strategy to keep the death penalty on the table.   

"We were well-aware of relevant case law supporting the legal argument that a missed deadline creates no prejudice," Ayala wrote in her letter to the governor.

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