death penalty

Prosecutor: Proposed budget cuts ‘threaten public safety’

Orlando-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala, targeted by GOP lawmakers for her refusal to seek the death penalty in the high-profile case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd, warned that budget cuts aimed at slashing 21 positions and $1.3 million from her office would “severely impact her agency’s ability to prosecute crimes” and “threaten public safety.”

Ayala sparked the wrath of Republican officials, including Gov. Rick Scott, after announcing earlier this month that she would not pursue death for Loyd — accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and the execution-style killing of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton — or defendants in any other capital capital cases during her time in office.

Scott swiftly removed Ayala from the Loyd case and reassigned it to Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King, an outspoken death penalty proponent.

The governor’s ousting created a groundswell of support for Ayala, the first black elected state attorney in Florida, and focused new attention on the state’s long-troubled death penalty. More than 100 law professors and legal experts, most of them death penalty opponents, maintain that Scott lacks the authority to remove her from the case.

A number of national organizations, including the NAACP, are backing  Ayala, and her opposition to the death penalty has galvanized opposition, although there’s little chance that the latest spotlight will sway the Florida Legislature’s support for the death sentence.

Earlier this week, House and Senate budget committees proposed slashing Ayala’s budget by $1.3 million and axing 21 positions from her office.

But death penalty cases only make up less than .01 percent of the total cases handled by Ayala’s agency, her spokeswoman Eryka Washington said in a statement issued Wednesday.

“The other 99.99% include non-capital homicides, sexual batteries, sex crimes against children, domestic violence, drug and human trafficking, carjackings, robberies, burglaries, DUI’s thefts, aggravated assaults, batteries and other violent and non-violent crimes,” Washington wrote.

The proposed budget and staff cuts “would severely impact this agency’s ability to effectively prosecute crimes, threaten public safety and ultimately have an economic impact on the central Florida community,” Washington added.

The proposed cuts could also harm the region’s tourism industry, Washington warned.

“The millions of tourist and people who call central Florida home are able to enjoy the public safety this community offers.  They should not be impacted by political posturing. It is my hope that we all stand in solidarity to ensure the public safety for the State of Florida,” she wrote.

Ayala’s response to the proposed budget cuts comes a day before her supporters are scheduled to rally outside the Capitol.

Individuals traveling on buses from Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Pensacola and South Florida are expected to participate in the event.

Sponsors of the ‘Ride for Aramis’ include the NAACP, Latino Justice, Florida Council of Churches, Orange County Black Voice, Let Your Voice Be Heard Orlando, Color of Change, The 8th Amendment Project, and Equal Justice USA, according to a press release.

___ Posted by Dara Kam

Legal eagles blast Scott for removing prosecutor

A who’s who of legal experts blasted Gov. Rick Scott for removing 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd after Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty in the case, or any others, during her tenure.

More than 100 former judges, onetime prosecutors and law professors — many of whom oppose the death penalty — sent the letter to Scott Monday, expressing their concern that the governor had exceeded his authority by reassigning the case to a special prosecutor.

Within hours of Ayala’s announcement, Scott removed Ayala from the case of Loyd, accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and the execution-style shooting death of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton after a nine-day manhunt.

Former Supreme Court justices Gerald Kogan and Harry Lee Anstead, both outspoken critics of Florida’s death penalty system, and Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former American Bar Association president who also served as president of Florida State University, were among those who signed the missive, accusing Scott of overreaching his authority by removing Ayala.

“State Attorney Ayala,as the duly elected, constitutional officeholder of State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit,is solely empowered to make  prosecutorial decisions for her circuit,” the legal experts wrote. “Your executive order that seeks to remove State Attorney Ayala from this position in the Loyd case absent any showing that her decision is violative of the state o federal Constitution–compromises the prosecutorial independence upon which the criminal justicesystem depends.”

Scott’s involvement in the case “sets a dangerous precedent,” the group objected.

“The governor picking and choosing how criminal cases are prosecuted, charged or handled in local matters is troubling as a matter of policy and practice. Indeed, there seems to be no precedent in Florida for this type of use of power,” they wrote.

The latest criticism of Scott’s decision comes as local, state and national leaders in the African-American community throw their support behind Ayala, the state’s first black elected state attorney.

Posted by Dara Kam