The shooting deaths of two Kissimmee police officers are focusing new attention on the dispute between Gov. Rick Scott and Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala over the enforcement of the state’s death penalty.
Scott issued an executive order on Saturday reassigning the first degree murder case of Everett Miller from Ayala to the state attorney in the Fifth Judicial Circuit.
“In Florida, we have zero tolerance for violence and those who attack our law enforcement,” Scott said in a statement released Saturday. “Today, I am using my executive authority to reassign this case to State Attorney Brad King to ensure the victims of last night’s attack and their families receive the justice they deserve.”
Miller is accused of shooting Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Sam Howard Friday night. Both died from their wounds.
Ayala made it known earlier this year that she objected to the death penalty saying a disproportionate number of inmates on Florida’s death row are black.
In March, she refused to seek a death sentence in the case of Markeith Loyd. Loyd was accused of killing his pregnant former girlfriend and then killing Lt. Debra Clayton as she tried to arrest him.
Ayala’s decision to not seek the death penalty in that case angered Scott, who has since proceeded to reassign 27 felony cases, despite Ayala’s objections.
One of those cases involved the death of a 3-year-old Orlando boy who was beaten to death last month because he drank from a milk jug. Police say he was beaten with a plastic rod and thrown across the room by his mother’s girlfriend and the girlfriend’s mother.
The dispute between Scott and Ayala rests in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court.
In June, the court heard arguments from attorneys representing both Ayala and Scott. Ayala filed suit against the governor questioning his authority to reassign the cases from her office and give them to another state attorney to handle.
Scott claims that state law allows him to transfer cases for any “good and sufficient reason” to ensure “the ends of justice would be best served.”
Ayala’s attorney argued that the Orlando state attorney has “absolute discretion” under law when it comes to deciding whether to seek the death penalty in capital cases.
“I violated no laws,” Ayala said following the oral arguments before the state’s high court. “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.
That will be decided by Florida Supreme Court justices. Their decision could come any day.