Death Penalty

Elected Florida Prosecutor Tries to Stop Using the Death Penalty, but Governor Won't Have It

A cop was killed, so there will be no debate about morality of the system.


Aramis Ayala
Joe Burbank/TNS/Newscom

Aramis Ayala wasn't kidding when she ran and won a position as a prosecutor in Florida on a platform of criminal justice reform. And now she's making national news for refusing to ask for the death penalty in the case of a man charged with murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend and subsequently an Orlando police officer.

Ayala represented a small number of new prosecutors representing a trend in 2016 of voters turning to candidates that offered a less harsh justice system and dumping some incumbents.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is not impressed with Ayala's decision, and even though the citizens of Osceola and Orange counties elected her, Scott is using his authority to move the case to another district and put it before another prosecutor. This came after she ignored his fully absurd demand that she recuse herself for not having the same position on the applicability of the death penalty as Scott's.

The story has inevitably crystalized around the fact that Ayala will not call for the death penalty for a man who killed a police officer above anything else. From CNN:

"[Ayala] has made it clear that she will not fight for justice and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case to State Attorney Brad King," Scott said. "These families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Markeith Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served."

Earlier Thursday, Ayala said capital punishment in Florida had led to "chaos, uncertainty, and turmoil."

She argued that evidence showed the death penalty was overly expensive, slow, inhumane and did not increase public safety. Ayala said after "extensive and painstaking thought and consideration," she determined that pursing the death penalty "is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice."

"Some victims will support and some will surely oppose my decision," she said. "But I have learned that the death penalty traps many victims, families in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty, court hearings, appeals and waiting."

To be very clear, because some of the coverage is a little ambiguous: Ayala is going to refuse to pursue the death penalty for any murder handled by her office. It's remarkable among prosecutors both for the political risk it opens up for Ayala but also for the fact that this isn't even a case where there's a lot of ambiguity that causes folks to question the application of the death penalty. This is the kind of case where people who are ambivalent about the death penalty are nevertheless likely to support Loyd's execution (assuming he's found guilty). Shooting a pregnant ex-girlfriend? Killing a cop execution-style and having it captured on video? The politically expedient thing for Ayala to do here would be to declare her personal opposition to the death penalty but ultimately allow the jury to decide.

Though leaders and representatives of law enforcement are furious, Ayala is getting support from groups like Amnesty International and the NAACP. The political maneuvering from the governor's office, though, shows the challenge when prosecutors attempt to step back even just a slight bit in high-profile cases. Based on the facts of the case, it seems unlikely Loyd is ever going to see the outside of a prison again, ever. But just the prospect that Florida might not execute him as well is apparently too much for some people to countenance, even though the state's own death penalty has been temporarily suspended over constitutional issues.

NEXT: Calculating the Risk of a False Title IX Sexual Assault Conviction: New at Reason

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So, in this case, an elected county executive officisl refusing to do her job properly because she has a moral objection is fine?

    1. Lol

      Also, you clearly don’t know why she won’t pursue the death penalty.

    2. Define “properly”.

    3. I think it’s arguable to say that she’s not doing her job properly. She seems to have every intention of getting a conviction, just not a specific penalty.

      1. So she thinks the guy is guilty of murder. She just thinks she can ignore the laws of Florida. Yeah well fuck her.

        1. Maybe I’m not up on Florida law but this is the first I’ve ever heard of a law requiring a prosecutor to pursue a specific penalty.

          1. I think decisions to pursue the death penalty are always up to local prosecutors. It is Gov. Scott who is putting himself above the law here. Even if the guy is sentenced to die by another county, it will likely be overturned on appeal.

          2. A prosecutor has some discretion as to whether to pursue a particular punishment based on the merits of the case. It would appear to be an abuse of that discretion to take a sentence passed by the legislature off the table entirely, especially for cases in which there is no disputing the merit, which is what Shackford has stipulated here.

            1. It would appear to be an abuse of that discretion

              I’m not following this logic. Either she has discretion or not.

              For the record, I do agree on the solitary point that if she is somehow forced to pursue the death penalty, she should resign.

              1. There is a difference between exercising discretion on a case by case basis and refusing to pursue the death penalty across the board because she disagrees with it.

                1. She is exercising her discretion to not pursue the death penalty. It makes no difference whether she does it 50% of the time or 100%. Good, I say.

                  1. If she unwilling to pursue the capital penalty offered by the state under any circumstances whatsoever then, arguably, she is tempermentally unfit to be a prosecutor.

                2. because she disagrees with it

                  She doesn’t.

                  1. The she is taking a very strange stand.

                    Mi d elaborating instead of beating around the bush?

            2. In every one of the cases that resulted in exonerations, there was a point in time that there was “no disputing the merits” to the cops, prosecutors, judges, general public, and probably most in the defense bar.

              Yeah, maybe this guy is 100% dead to rights guilty – I haven’t followed the case – but the rules that allow him to be executed are the same rules that allow innocent people to end up on death row and sometimes be executed……

              1. I am not arguing the merits of the death penalty here. I am not arguing the merits of the case as the prosecutor is not. I am saying that the prosecutor does not have the authority to decide on her own that any particular sentence is never to be pursued under any circumstances.

              2. Everything you say can be said far more accurately about incarceration. Should we get rid of that?

      2. She doesn’t get to decide if he gets the death penalty. The jury does. If she can’t bring herself to pursue it, she needs to resign and go become a defense attorney.

        1. Forgive me, I might be in error. I thought juries decided guilt or innocence and judges determined the sentence.

          1. Only a jury can give someone the death penalty. The Supreme Court ruled the federal right to a jury trial applied to the states in that regard.

            1. So why are prosecutors allowed to determine what sentence will be pursued, if it is ultimately determined by a jury or judge?

        2. Never mind, fuck you.


          First degree murder is a capital felony in Florida. For a capital felony, the state may pursue the death penalty. If court proceedings at the sentencing stage lead to a determination that the defendant should not receive the death penalty, state law requires a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

          State is not compelled to ask for the harshest punishment possible.

        3. She can choose to pursue the death penalty in this case or not. A jury cannot sentence anyone to death if the prosecutors does not seek it. Where I live in Alexandria, VA, the DA has never sought the death penalty in cases where prosecutors in more conservative parts of the state might very well decide to. For example, there was a case a few years ago where some guys in their early 20s robbed and fatally shot a taxi driver. They were charged with capital murder but the death penalty was never on the table.

  2. What’s interesting about the Death Penalty and its application, is it can be argued it’s a form of Social Justice.

    1. I am very willing to hold cops to a high standard of behavior. If a cop fucks up and kills someone or kills someone in cold blooded murder, they should be prosecuted. The flip side of that is that I recognize the jobs cops do and the danger they put themselves in. We should hold cops to a very high standard of behavior. We should also, however, require cops to always wear uniforms and identify themselves clearly. In cases where they do that, I have no problem with treating anyone who assaults or murders them in the harshest possible terms.

  3. I think our justice system is brutal and unjust. It is not brutal and unjust because we give the death penalty to shit bags who murder cops or murder anyone for that matter. This is a stupid hill to die on and hurts the cause of justice reform. All this does is allow the cops and those who want to continue the status quo to portray anyone who doesn’t as just someone who thinks killing cops is okay. That is not helpful.

    How about this woman stop asking for prison time in drug possession cases? Or maybe not bring DUI cases where there was not an accident and the BAH was below .12? Or maybe stop throwing people in jail for the crime of being too poor to pay administrative fines? Those all sound like very good things to me. And a hell of a lot better use of her political capital than trying to ensure a murderer avoids his just fate. And remember, she is still going to bring the charges. So she thinks he is guilty. So don’t tell me he is innocent because that is not the issue here.

    1. Try educating yourself about why she doesn’t want to pursue the death penalty.

      1. I really don’t care why. I have no problem with the death penalty in murder cases. If she thinks the guy is innocent, she shouldn’t be charging him at all. If she thinks he is guilty, she is wasting her political capital that could be used elsewhere trying to save a murderer.

        1. “He might be innocent” is not the only argument against the death penalty.

        2. I really don’t care why.

          And that’s why you’re a shitposting troll.

        3. I’m with the very reasonable John McAfee on this one. Find compassion. Without it, we are no longer human. The death penalty stops no crime. It only shows our barbarism.

    2. This is a stupid hill to die on and hurts the cause of justice reform.

      I’m not sorry at all, but I have principles. I’m not going to abandon them every time I hear the ‘That’s a stupid hill to die on! Fuck principles!’ argument, which oddly enough seems to appear quite often on this website which is supposedly populated by libertarians.

      Those all sound like very good things to me.

      Let’s do all of the above, including not seeking the death penalty. Ignore the unprincipled blood-thirsty whiners.

    3. Civil libertarians like us complain constantly about prosecutors at all levels that choose the most severe charges and pursue the most drastic penalties. Now we have one who doesn’t (and apparently campaigned on the fact that she wouldn’t do so) and some of us complain about that.

      Seems like we’ve got a Goldilocks problem here.

  4. I can respect her decision, as the DP is never reversible. That said, Loyd is almost certainly guilty.

    She’s a woman of conviction, because the Loyd case 1) is super high profile in Central Florida, 2) is 99.9% likely to result in a guilty verdict, and 3) will not be forgotten when she runs for re-election.

    I’m honestly surprised she didn’t conveniently forget her anti-DP stance until after this case.

    1. If that is her conciction then she shpumd run for the legislature and move to get the death penalty taken off the books. It is not up to a prosecutor to repeal it herself.

      1. How intellectually dishonest can you get? She’s not repealing anything. To my knowledge, she’s not pushing to have everyone on death row in Florida taken off it. She hasn’t introduced any bills to the state legislature. She is just not going to pursue the death penalty when it’s in her discretion to so do, which is clearly her prerogative.

        1. She has discretion to not pursue it based on the circumstances and merits of the individual cases. Eliminating it across the board is an abuse of that discretion.

          1. That thst action is acceptable is your intellectual dishonesty.

          2. I see. She doesn’t have the discretion to apply her discretion in any way with which you disagree.

            1. That is my thought about the people who support her actions. That they would not be doing so if they did not agree with her stand.

          3. Or let’s try it this way:

            Eliminating it across the board is an abuse of that discretion.

            According to what statute? Nothing I’ve read would seem to compel her to push for the death penalty whenever possible, nor fail to do so, nor meet some quota of cases in which she does ask for the death penalty. What precept of law have you read that says otherwise?

            1. Would a prosecutor who states a policy that never pursues murder charges against police, ever, be an acceptable use of her discretion to you?

              1. Do you consider that an answer to the question I posed? Tell me what legal precept compels her to seek the death penalty if she chooses not to?

                1. It reduced you to sputtering non-answers so it did a great job of showing how your position isn’t principled at all. You sympathize with criminals and hate cops another one of those 5 percent positions that have propelled the libertarian party into power in zero states

  5. People who crave the deaths of other people are psycho nuts regardless of the circumstances.

    1. Fuck you, you depraved lunatic — what makes life in an iron box moral and death immoral? You dress up torture and whore it out as justice. Then you masturbate to your own false image of yourself while casting barbs and cutting down others as if you were worthy to chastise. You have no honor nor merit nor integrity. You are just a barking dog with nothing to offer anyone in this world but your dead weight to carry.

      1. Look more closely at the words I used.

    2. Does that include Claus von Stauffenberg?

    3. People who crave extending the anguish of suffering families of the victims have micropenises.

  6. I spit on any man or woman who has mercy in their hearts for murders.

    Tie a noose and make it tight;
    A feast for crow come tonight!

    1. Jesus loves you anyways.

      And Jesus would be about the only person I’d trust with the power to say who lives and who dies. It’s not a matter of mercy, it’s a matter of knowing your own limitations as a human being to hold that responsibility.

  7. The death penalty isn’t about justice or public safety, it’s about vengeance. It’s perfectly natural for a murder victim’s loved ones to crave vengeance, and no one should hold that against them. But it’s the rest of society’s job to stay sober and demand that our legal system seeks only justice and public safety.

  8. I thought the Governor was pro-life? I guess he’s only pro-life when he wants to be. At least (most) the Catholics are fairly consistent on this one. Even though I’m not Catholic, I’ll drive down to Oklahoma and stand next to the nuns if (when) they decide to kill Richard Glossip.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.