State Attorney Ayala responds to Gov. Scott's death penalty questions

Ayala wants to know how Scott chose which murder cases to strip from her

By Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala issued a formal letter on Monday responding to Gov. Rick's Scott request for information about her office's death penalty review panel.

Ayala also asked Scott to provide her with information on his "arbitrary" and "questionable" process of choosing which first-degree murder cases would be stripped from her and reassigned to a neighboring state attorney after Ayala announced earlier this year that she would not seek capital punishment in any case.

"Your selection process has consequently threatened due process and equal protection under law. I too, stand with victims of crime. But I also stand boldly on, not just the Constitution, but all the amendments to it, including the 14th amendment," Ayala wrote.

In her letter, Ayala writes that her office has proved that it is willing to pursue the death penalty when appropriate.

She writes that in the case of accused murderer Emerita Mapp, her office communicated with Attorney General Pam Bondi's office about missing the 45-day deadline to file a notice to seek the death penalty and she was confident she could litigate that issue because Mapp had waived her right to a speedy trial.

Bondi released the following statement Monday regarding Ayala's communication with her office about Mapp's case, calling Ayala's actions "inexcusable."

"Ayala’s office reached out to my attorneys regarding an unidentified death penalty case WELL AFTER she missed the deadline in an attempt to salvage the case. My office provided potential legal arguments in an attempt to defend a death penalty case, and in an effort to correct her egregious actions. What she did is inexcusable in failing to meet a deadline required in a capital case. In no way do we condone her behavior. She continues to demonstrate that she is incompetent and unwilling to handle capital cases. We will continue to lend support to any effort to follow the law and ensure justice is done in any homicide in the ninth circuit." 

Mapp entered a plea on Friday and has been sentenced to life in prison.

"I think you would agree, a plea to life in prison is a just resolution to this case. Since this case has been resolved, it seems most of your inquiries are rendered moot," Ayala wrote to Scott.

Ayala claims that Scott "failed to do what [he] said [he was] going to do" because he told the public he would continue to examine first-degree murder cases in Orange and Osceola counties, yet he reassigned cases both before and after Mapp's arrest without a clearly defined selection process.

Aside from wanting further information on Mapp's case, Scott's office also requested information about Ayala's seven-member death penalty review panel, which was established after Scott won his legal battle with Ayala regarding his authority to remove first-degree murder cases from her office against her will.

The letter gave Ayala until Monday to answer questions regarding how often the panel has met, how it was established, what cases it has reviewed and to supply written confirmation that Ayala's office does plan to pursue the death penalty when appropriate.

"By now, it should be clear to you that my office does consider the death penalty as a potential sentence in first-degree murder cases, and it should be obvious that I do, and have done, everything that I said I was going to do, including following the law," Ayala responded.

A death penalty notice was filed Wednesday against Jimmy Merritt, who is accused of beating one man to death with a hammer and fatally shooting another.

She started her response by noting that it would have been easier for Scott to have set up a meeting or phone call with her instead of issuing a letter to the media. She ended her letter by letting Scott know that her public records department will provide his office with the information regarding her legal invoices that he requested.

Gov. Scott's Communication Director, John Tupps, issued the following statement Monday afternoon in regards to Ayala's response:

“Today’s response from State Attorney Ayala is completely insufficient. What is especially troubling is her refusal to answer specific questions about her death penalty review panel. State Attorney Ayala needs to be more forthcoming with her office’s death penalty process to make it clear that she is going to follow the law and fight for victims. The Governor will continue to stand with victims of crime and push for the answers that the citizens of the Orlando area deserve.” 

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