It doesn't look like Gov. Rick Scott is going to let Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala anywhere near a capital murder case on his watch.
Scott on Monday issued executive orders reassigning the 21 first-degree murder cases already in the Ninth Judicial Circuit to State Attorney Brad King.
The governor removed Ayala from these cases "in the interest of justice," he said, following her recent decision and public announcement to not consider capital punishment during her time in office, regardless of the individual facts and circumstances in any case. Click here to view the executive orders.
Scott said in a statement, “Each of these cases I am reassigning represents a horrific loss of life. The families who tragically lost someone deserve a state attorney who will take the time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making such an impactful decision.
"Some of the victims include a teenager whose life was taken before he could bravely testify as a witness to a dangerous crime, a single mother who was abducted and killed as she called for help, and a young child whose life was brutally cut short. I cannot imagine the pain their families endure each day and we will do all we can to aggressively fight for justice.
“State Attorney Ayala’s complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice. In the interest of justice, I am using my executive authority today to reassign these cases to State Attorney Brad King. State Attorney King has accepted the duty of reviewing each case in accordance with the law.”
The governor's action met with Attorney General Pam Bondi's approval. “I would like to commend Gov. Rick Scott for his swift action for not only protecting citizens of Orlando but standing up for all crime victims and their families.”
Last Thursday hundreds of Ayala's supporters from around the state showed up in Tallahassee for a "Ride for Aramis" rally.
And Ayala was given a vote of confidence this past weekend when Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel appointed her to the FDP's Judiciary Committee.
Said Leslie Wimes, president of the Florida Democratic African American Women Caucus and SSN columnist, "If Gov. Scott is nothing else, he is consistent, and this action is in line with what he did in the Markeith Loyd case. The Florida Supreme Court will determine who is right, Ayala or Scott. I'm hoping that they do so expeditiously because at this point, the grandstanding of the governor is only for political points."
At a rally supporting the governor's position outside the Orange County Courthouse last Thursday, TV News13 interviewed Rafael Zaldivar, father of murder victim Alex Zaldivar. Zaldivar's killer is currently on death row.
"Alex was a state witness, the other children were state witnesses," Rafael Zaldivar told the News13 team. "The state witness is like a police officer. They are putting their lives on the line for the community and he paid with his life. It's no different."
Said Steve Zellers, a former state attorney's office witness coordinator, "For [Ayala] to make a blanket statement to no longer seek the death penalty is a slap in the face to survivors of homicide and their loved ones everywhere."
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.