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Death Penalty Opponents Rally While Lawmakers Eye Orlando State Attorney Budget Cuts

Rally for Ayala at the Capitol
Sarah Mueller
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Death penalty opponents rallied at Florida’s Capitol in support of Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala. Republican lawmakers are considering cutting her office’s budget due to her refusal to seek the death penalty in capital cases. But Ayala said a budget cut would hurt her office’s ability to prosecute crimes.

Jacksonville resident Darlene Farah said she reached out to Governor Rick Scott many times to try to spare the life of the man who killed her daughter. Twenty-year-old Shelby was killed in 2013. But Farah said Scott refused to stop former Jacksonville State Attorney Angela Corey from seeking the death penalty for her daughter’s killer.

“It wasn’t the homicide that tore my family apart, it was the state attorney’s office," she said. "I called Governor Rick Scott’s office. I was trying to get the state attorney removed off of our case. Governor Rick Scott never reached back out to me. Nobody from his office or anything.”

Rally for Ayala at the Capitol
Credit Sarah Mueller
The Florida Channel
Rally for Ayala at the Capitol

But Scott has removed Ayala from prosecuting Markeith Lloyd after she declined to seek the death penalty on any case. Lloyd is accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. Ayala said she's doing what’s in the best interest of her community and Scott is playing politics.

The issues surrounding the death penalty include the issue of race. Ayala is the first black state attorney ever elected in Florida and activists and the Black Legislative caucus are blasting Scott for yanking her. Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston said Florida tends to execute people based on race, gender and where they’re convicted.

“This history has long tainted compromised relationships between communities of color and law enforcement officials, in particular prosecutors," he said."Governor Scott’s actions here threaten to further aggravate these relationships and disrupt the 2016 election of State Attorney Ayala.”

Criminal Justice Committee Chair Randolph Bracy spoke to rally participants. The Democrat is the second African-American in Florida history to chair a committee. Bracy sponsored the death penalty law requiring unanimous jury decisions on death penalty cases.

“Whether you agree with State Attorney Ayala’s decision, she was independently elected by the Ninth Circuit and she has the right to make that decision," he said. "That is my opinion. I think it’s clear the law says that. She has the discretion and the right to make that decision and I support it.”

Scott also said he’s considering suspending or removing her from office. Republican leaders like House Speaker Richard Corcoran support Scott’s decision.

“So she has that to say ‘In this particular case, for these reasons, we’ve decided not to seek the death penalty.’ That’s not what she said. She has said ‘I do not believe in the death penalty,’ which is in our Constitution. ‘I wouldn’t seek it for the victims of Pulse, I’m not going to seek it for this individual case, I won’t seek it at all for all cases. That’s violating the Constitution.”

Ayala said 99 percent of her cases are not capital cases. She said cutting her office budget by $1.3 million and eliminating 21 jobs will severely impact prosecuting crimes like sexual assault, domestic violence and drug and human trafficking.

Farah said she fought four long years to prevent her daughter’s killer from getting the death penalty. He’ll spend the rest of his life in prison and she says she’s okay with that.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Sarah Mueller is the first recipient of the WFSU Media Capitol Reporting Fellowship. She’ll be covering the 2017 Florida legislative session and recently earned her master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois Springfield. Sarah was part of the Illinois Statehouse press corps as an intern for NPR Illinois in 2016. When not working, she enjoys playing her yellow lab, watching documentaries and reading memoirs.