State Attorney Aramis Ayala won't pursue death penalty in cases, including Markeith Loyd's

Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - State Attorney Aramis Ayala won't pursue the death penalty against murder suspect Markeith Loyd or in any other cases, she said Thursday morning during a news conference about her decision.

Ayala said she reached her decision after reading research that indicated that the death penalty has no public safety benefit.

"I have given this a lot of thought, and it's become clear that pursuing death-penalty cases is not the best interest of victims' families or justice," she said.

By 4 p.m. Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott said said he assigned a different state attorney to Loyd's case.


Watch Thursday's full news conference below:


Research showed that the death penalty doesn't increase safety for law enforcement officers or deter violent crimes, Ayala said.

“Florida’s death penalty has been the cause of considerable legal chaos, uncertainty and turmoil,” said Ayala. 

She said capital punishment often leads to years of appeals and other court hearings, and that it costs more than a life sentence.

When she was asked about the legality of her decision, Ayala said Florida law gives her "the discretion of whether or not to seek it."

Ayala said she plans to file a notice to withdraw the intent to seek the death penalty in those cases that have not yet gone to trial.

“I’ve spoken to the attorneys assigned to those cases, the victims advocates and the families,” Ayala said.  

Read: Chief Mina 'extremely upset' over decision to not seek death penalty against Markeith Loyd

Law enforcement officials, including Orlando police Chief Mina, have expressed outrage about the decision, but Ayala said she has full intentions of keeping a good, working relationship with law enforcement departments.

“I understand that law enforcement may be upset and I did speak to Chief Mina. I will discuss with him further details of the evidence that I have absolutely considered law enforcement,” Ayala said. “I appreciate what they do.”

The Fraternal Order of Police has called the decision troubling, and an injustice for the victims in Loyd's case.

Channel 9 obtained a memo that Ayala sent to staff on Wednesday evening, explaining her decision.

“This decision has not been easy, but I believe that this decision is necessary for the proper administration of justice,” Ayala said. “I look forward to having a frank, in-person discussion of how I arrived at this decision and will be taking the opportunity to do so in the very near future."

"Some victims' families will support this decision," Ayala said during the news conference. "Others will not."

Photos: Death row inmates convicted in Orange County

Loyd is accused of fatally shooting Sade Dixon, his pregnant ex-girlfriend, in December, and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton in January.

Dixon’s parents told Channel 9 that they will meet Thursday with Ayala to learn how she reached her decision. They said they're still processing the decision.

Clayton’s sister told Channel 9 that she doesn’t know why Ayala won’t pursue the death penalty. She, too, is still trying to grasp the weight of the decision, she said.

Interactive map: Search for Markeith Loyd

Belvin Perry Jr., a WFTV legal analyst and a former chief judge, called Ayala’s decision shocking and added that it goes against Florida law. .

“Her decision is totally mind boggling,” he said. “If any crime, the murder of Lt. Clayton cries for the death penalty. That's it. The murder of Sade Dixon also cries out for the death penalty.”

Perry said Loyd’s case is a clear example of capital murder and believes the death penalty should be pursued. 

“A case that may deserve it because we feel that way must be supported by a statute that can be justly administered and enforced,” Ayala said. “That’s the issue.”

But legal experts said Loyd’s case is more than just a feeling and there are aggravating factors in Loyd’s case that call for the death penalty. 

Dixon's parents said prosecutors will seek a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Photos: Death row inmates sentenced in Seminole County

“It's a big disappointment for law enforcement,” Perry said. “And I venture to say it will be a big disappointment for the citizens of Orange and Osceola counties.”

Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement Thursday that Ayala must recuse herself from Loyd's case.

"Ayala has made it abundantly clear that she will not fight for justice for Lt. Debra Clayton and our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line," Scott said.

He later took her off Loyd's case since she refused to recuse herself, and assigned it to State Attorney Brad King. 

Read: Cortes 'outraged' by Ayala's decision not to death penalty in any case

Rashad Robinson, a spokesman for the Color of Change political action committee, praised Ayala in a statement, calling her decision "positive change."

"Ayala’s decision sets a powerful example of reform that others must heed," he said. "Every day, more and more Americans of all races are waking up to realize the warped incentives in our criminal justice system, and in 2016 many went to the polls to vote out prosecutors working from a failed and inhumane playbook."

The Florida Department of Corrections said once it received new sentencing documents from the courts, it will review the inmates’ profile to determine if the inmate needs to be institutionalized elsewhere.

“All death row inmates are housed in single secured cell units, whereas those serving a life sentence are in an open bay unit with other inmates,” officials said in a statement. “Males are housed at either Florida State Prison or Union Correctional Institution and females are housed at Lowell Correctional Institution. “