Florida Supreme Court hears Arguments in Gov. Scott-Orlando Prosecutor Death Penalty Dispute

by | Jun 28, 2017

It’s now up to the Florida Supreme Court to decide if Gov. Rick Scott acted within his authority when he removed two dozen felony cases from the jurisdiction of the state attorney in Orlando.

Scott reassigned the cases after Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala said earlier this year that she would not seek the death penalty for an accused cop killer.

Ayala filed a lawsuit challenging Scott’s right to transfer the cases. Supreme Court Justices heard oral arguments from both sides during a hearing Wednesday morning.

Her attorney, Roy Austin, argued that Ayala has “absolute discretion” under law when it comes to deciding whether to seek the death penalty in capital cases.

“She feels her case was made. She violated no laws. She exercised the discretion that is given to every state attorney in the state of Florida,” Austin said.

But Florida’s Solicitor General Amit Agarwal, who represented Scott at Wednesday’s hearing, defended the governor’s decision.

Agarwal said Scott has the right as governor to take action against any state attorney if he has “good and sufficient” reason that justice would be best served.

He argued that Ayala essentially made a blanket policy that nullifies a law enacted by the Legislature.

Speaking to reporters outside the court following the hearing, Ayala insists she did nothing wrong.

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala outside Florida Supreme Court.

“I violated no laws. There were no Florida Statutes that I was required to seek [the] death penalty. There was no blueprint to follow. I did what I believed was proper under Florida law and no law was violated,” Ayala said.

Ayala first drew criticism when she announced in March that she would not pursue the death penalty in the case of Markeith Loyd.  Loyd is accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend and Orlando police Lieutenant Debra Clayton, who tried to arrest him.

The case of Alex Zaldivar, who was murdered in Orlando, is one of two dozen death penalty cases that the governor reassigned to other prosecutors.

Rafael Zaldivar, Orlando father of murdered teenager.

His father, Rafael Zaldivar, traveled to Tallahassee to hear the supreme court arguments.

“I am very confident that the justices will rule in Gov. Rick Scott’s favor and we can all move along and start putting these savages to death,” Zaldivar said.

A past member of the court believes that Scott overstepped his authority. Former Chief Justice Gerald Kogan says whether Ayala is right or wrong, it’s a decision that should be left up to the voters at the ballot box in Orange and Osceola counties..

“What this governor is doing, I think, is absolutely improper because you can not interfere with another elected official’s prerogative that is based in the constitution to be the chief law enforcement prosecutor in a particular county where they are elected,” said Kogan.


1 Comment

  1. Carrie

    To clarify, Alex Zaldivar was not a police informant. He was a state witness in an armed home invasion case (in which Alex was among the victims) and one the perpetrators, Bessman Okafor, then murdered Alex the day before the armed home invasion trial in order to prevent him from testifying. Can you please update the article with this correction?

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