New to the Job, Prosecutor Takes on Anti-Death Penalty Fight

by the Associated Press
March 17, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida prosecutor who thrust herself into the forefront of the anti-death penalty movement is a political novice who was elected just seven months ago.

Aramis Ayala, a Democrat and former public defender and assistant state attorney, surprised many of her own supporters when she announced this week that her office would no longer seek capital punishment in a state that has one of the largest death rows. In response, the state’s Republican governor promptly transferred a potential death penalty case — the killing of a police officer and a pregnant woman earlier this year — to another Florida prosecutor.

“I understand this is a controversial issue but what isn’t controversial is the evidence that led me to my decision,” said Ayala, the first black State Attorney elected in Florida.

She said there is no evidence that shows the death penalty improves public safety for citizens or law enforcement, and it’s costly and drags on for years for the victims’ families.

Advocates seeking to abolish the death penalty said Ayala sent a powerful message. Her decision reflects decreasing support for capital punishment in the U.S., said Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty.

“There are some prosecutors who in practice are following her lead. They just haven’t spoken out like she has,” Clifton said. “It would be wonderful if they spoke out and we could have a louder voice.”

Ayala spent the first decade or so of her career as an assistant state attorney and public defender. She was a prosecutor in the State Attorney’s Office for Orange and Osceola counties for about two years before she decided to seek the top job. The county is home to Walt Disney World and other tourist attractions and has grown more liberal over the past two decades.

Ayala was a political newcomer last year when she took on her former boss, then-State Attorney Jeff Ashton, who had been one of the prosecutors in the Casey Anthony case. Anthony was acquitted of murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

Ayala didn’t run on an anti-death penalty platform when she campaigned, since at the time Florida’s death penalty law was in question after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. A new death penalty bill was signed into law this week.

She instead emphasized during her campaign that she would engage with average citizens if elected. She acknowledged that her husband had served time in prison for drug conspiracy and counterfeiting checks years ago.

Even some of Ayala’s supporters said Friday they were taken aback by her decision.

Lawson Lamar, a former State Attorney and sheriff, who backed her run for office, said: “Anyone who raises their hand and takes the oath to be State Attorney must be able to go with the death penalty even if they feel it’s distasteful.”

Ayala’s campaign was helped by a Washington-based political action committee with ties to liberal Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros. The committee gave Ayala’s campaign almost $1 million, as well as millions of dollars to candidates in local races around the nation.

When asked if the donations influenced her decision, she said it did not.

Florida has 381 inmates on death and shows no sign of slowing down future prosecutions. The other State Attorneys in Florida issued a statement Friday saying they would continue to seek the death penalty.

Rafael Zaldivar, whose son was murdered in Orlando in 2012, said Ayala’s decision is part of a political agenda and has no place in the State Attorney’s Office. He demanded her resignation.

“She is an activist. She isn’t a prosecutor. She has an agenda,” said Zaldivar, whose son’s killer was sentenced to death in 2015. Questions over Florida’s death penalty law have cast doubt over the sentence. His case is currently on appeal.

After Ayala announced her decision, Gov. Rick Scott transferred the case of Markeith Loyd from her authority to another State Attorney in a neighboring district. Loyd is charged in the killing of police Lt. Debra Clayton, as well as Sade Dixon, who was Loyd’s pregnant ex-girlfriend.

Dixon’s mother said she supported Ayala’s decision, saying the death penalty would drag out the process for her family.

“I would love for him to die right now, but that isn’t going to happen,” Stephanie Dixon-Daniels said at a news conference outside the Orange County Courthouse.

Ayala’s decision could play into any future political aspirations. In California, then-District Attorney Kamala Harris faced similar circumstances a dozen years ago when she decided not to pursue the death penalty against a man accused of killing a San Francisco police officer. Harris went on to become the state’s attorney general and a U.S. senator.

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Faith Community Responses to the Death Penalty

FAITH COMMUNITY RESPONSES TO THE DEATH PENALTY

Inspired by a suggestion and some ground work laid by Rev. Emory Hingst, several TCADP members put the finishing touches on a booklet of  statements on the death penalty from approximately twenty different faiths.  Nancy Smith Fichter and Robert Fichter worked to get as many statements as possible and to obtain the most current available.  We printed 350 booklets and are making sure that every member of the Florida Legislature, Governor Rick Scott, and Attorney General Pam Bondi, all have a copy.  Click the link to download a copy of this booklet published by TCADP as part of our lobbying effort.

Faith Comments 2-4-13

 

 

The Death Penalty: Evolving Issues in Florida

The Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights & the American Bar Association present:The Death Penalty: Evolving Issues in Florida

A two-hour forum that will include perspective and commentary from FSU President Emeritus, former Dean of the College of Law and former American Bar Association President Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte; former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero; 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge Janet Ferris (retired); 18th Judicial Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton (retired) and former member of the ABA Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team; Harry Shorstein, former Fourth Continue reading ‘The Death Penalty: Evolving Issues in Florida’ »

Florida’s Catholic bishops repeated their plea for Gov. Rick Scott ….

Travis Pillow writes in the Florida Independent that Florida’s Catholic bishops repeated their plea for Gov. Rick Scott to call off the execution of Manuel Valle, the subject of Scott’s first death warrant.

Death Penalty, Still Racist and Arbitrary

Op-Ed Contributor, New York Times

By DAVID R. DOW
Published: July 8, 2011, Houston
LAST week was the 35th anniversary of the return of the American death penalty. It remains as racist and as random as ever.
Several years after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, a University of Iowa law professor, David C. Baldus (who died last month), along with two colleagues, published a study examining more than 2,000 homicides that took place in Georgia beginning in 1972. They found that black defendants were 1.7 times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants and that murderers of white victims were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks. Continue reading ‘Death Penalty, Still Racist and Arbitrary’ »

Commission on Capital Cases gets put to sleep ….

 

A commission established by the Florida Legislature almost 15 years ago to monitor the administration of justice in death penalty post-conviction proceedings has itself been sentenced to death.

The unintended consequences may be significant.

The Commission on Capital Cases, a relatively obscure entity, was abolished earlier this month purportedly to “save” $400,000 in related costs. Among its tasks was to receive public input, and advise and make recommendations to the governor, Legislature and Florida Supreme Court.

The current slate of commissioners, a Republican and a Democrat from the Senate and the House, a retired District Court of Appeal judge and a former county court judge, seemed poised to play a more active role than their immediate predecessors.

However, the Florida Senate adopted a relatively low-profile and late-emerging House conforming bill during the final hours of the 2011 regular legislative session without deliberation.


Death Penalty Information Center report

On December 21, the Death Penalty Information Center released its latest report, “The Death Penalty in 2010: Year End Report,” on statistics and trends in capital punishment in the past year.  The report noted there was a 12% decrease in executions in 2010 compared to 2009 and a more than 50% drop compared to 1999. DPIC projected that the number of new death sentences will be 114 for 2010, near last year’s number of 112, which was the lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Death sentences declined in all four regions of the country over the past ten years, with a 50 percent decrease nationwide when the current decade is compared to the 1990s.  Only 12 states carried out executions in 2010, mostly in the South, and only seven states carried out more than one execution. Texas led the country with 17 executions, but that was a significant drop from last year.  The number of new death sentences in Texas this year was 8, a dramatic decline from 1999 when 48 people were sentenced to death.  Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 82% of the executions have been in the South. California has not had an execution in almost 5 years, and the same is true for North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and many other states that rarely carry out the death penalty.  “Whether it’s concerns about the high costs of the death penalty at a time when budgets are being slashed, the risks of executing the innocent, unfairness, or other reasons, the nation continued to move away from the death penalty in 2010,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the report’s author.

Practicing Medicine on Death Row

Thursday 09 December 2010

by: Robert Wilbur, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

Practicing Medicine on Death Row ( Edited: Jared
Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)

Execution by lethal injection has shone a harsh light on the complicity
of health professionals – physicians, nurses and paramedics – in
carrying out capital punishment. In a 2001 survey in the prestigious
journal, Archives of Internal Medicine, an astonishing 41 percent of
physicians surveyed said that they would assist or even carry out an
execution by lethal injection and there is little evidence that the
percentage has changed significantly since then. Deborah W. Denno JD,
PhD, a leading scholar of death penalty litigation at the Fordham
University School of Law in New York City, remarked that physician
participation in executions is more prevalent than one might think,
although exact numbers are not available because of the secrecy
surrounding executions. And this does not even include the nurses and
paramedics (also known as Emergency Medical Technicians or EMTs) who
head up the execution teams in many states. Interestingly, the
leadership of several major organizations have taken a more enlightened
view on executions than many of their members.
Continue reading ‘Practicing Medicine on Death Row’ »

Restoring fairness to the death penalty

Daniel Ruth St Petersburg Times Correspondent
Restoring fairness to the death penalty,
In Print: Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Imagine lying on a gurney, a needle inserted in your arm. The clock ticks toward the appointed hour. In minutes you’ll be — dead.
The only thing standing between your last breath and a reprieve is the U.S. Supreme Court. Maybe you are guilty of your crimes. Then again, maybe you’re not. And maybe nobody cares.
At a moment like this, that person facing society’s ultimate sanction should have at the very least an expectation he will get a fair shake from the judicial system. After all, once the switch gets thrown, there are no mulligans on death row. Continue reading ‘Restoring fairness to the death penalty’ »

State must act to fix flaws in the death penalty

ABA Forum in Tallahassee with the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.


My View essay in October 30th, 2010 edition Tallahassee, Democrat

Raoul G. Cantero III and Mark R. Schlakman


F
our years ago, the American Bar Association released a comprehen­sive Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team report that raised serious concerns about the state’s death penalty process. Since then, with few exceptions, state government has done little to remedy problems identified in the report.

To conduct the assessment, the ABA assembled a diverse and highly qualified eight member team to work in collaboration with its Washington, D.C. based staff.

The objective was to ensure that prosecutorial, defense, judicial, academic and other relevant perspectives were adequately represented when assessing Florida’s death penalty process.

The team resolved at the outset that its findings and recommendations had to be unanimous to be included in the report. Put simply, the report’s findings and recommendations were intended to improve the administration of justice in Florida and promote fairness and accuracy in our criminal-justice system without regard to ones views on capital punishment.

Among the key findings was that death penalty defen­dants often receive abysmal legal representation.

The report makes sever­al related recommendations, including reinstating the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel office in the north­ern region of Florida (it was disbanded within the context of a still ongoing pilot project that relies on private registry counsel). These private law­yers generally don’t specialize in capital defense work nor do they benefit from the supervision and support available to CCRC lawyers in central and south Florida, and they typically receive only nominal compensation for their efforts. Continue reading ‘State must act to fix flaws in the death penalty’ »