Ayala confident late filing will not affect motion to seek death penalty in Kissimmee murder case

By: Jeff Deal

Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - After coming under fire from Gov. Rick Scott for missing the deadline for filing her intent to seek the death penalty in a Kissimmee murder case, State Attorney Aramis Ayala said Wednesday she wasn't concerned.

After several days of going back and forth with Scott's office about the blame for missing the deadline, Ayala said Wednesday she expects her death penalty motion to be approved.

Ayala, who has been at odds with Scott since she announced her office would not seek the death penalty in any case it prosecuted, said Monday that it wasn’t her fault the deadline was missed.

The case in question is against Emerita Mapp, who is accused of stabbing 20-year-old Zachary Ganoe to death and critically injuring another man at a Kissimmee Days Inn in April.

The case against Mapp was never reviewed by Scott’s office, or by another state attorney, which is why the deadline was missed, Ayala said.

The reason the case was not reviewed would seem to be of Ayala's own making, according to an email exchange with State Attorney Brad King, who is handling the cases removed from Ayala's office.

"Without such an orderly process, we will be reacting to law enforcement, or victim family, requests made to the governor," King wrote on April 20. "This would create the potential for speedy trial and (death penalty) filing time issues."

Nearly a month later, Ayala responded saying unless Scott had removed a case from her office, she was in charge of prosecuting it.

"It remains my position that any cases within the Ninth Circuit, without an executive order, remain the sole duty and responsibility of me to prosecute," Ayala wrote on May 15.

Read: Death penalty review panel members prosecuted more than 1,900 cases since 2012, records show

In September, Ayala announced the formation of a death penalty review panel, which would examine potential capital cases and decide if seeking the death penalty was appropriate.

The panel did not review Mapp’s case until after the deadline, which requires that an intent to seek the death penalty be filed within 45 days of the defendant’s arraignment.

Mapp was arraigned on Aug. 23.

Read: Anti-death penalty prosecutor's office to seek death penalty, but case not known

While Mapp’s attorneys moved to have the prosecution’s filing of intent to seek the death penalty dismissed, Ayala said her office is ready to litigate the issue.

She filed a response to the defense motion Wednesday, saying that because Mapp had waived her right to a speedy trial, it was OK to file the death sentence motion late.

WFTV legal analyst and former Chief Judge Belvin Perry said Ayala's argument was an interesting one.

"It's going to hinge on the interpretation of the court on the statute," he said. "Which says that they 'must' (file a death penalty motion within 45 days)."

The 45-day deadline is part of a recently enacted rule, changing the previous one that allowed prosecutors to submit late filings.

Between the addition of the 45-day deadline and removal of the provision that allows late filings, Perry said it is unlikely a judge will approve Ayala's request.

"If you read the two together, he can logically come up with the conclusion that they are barred from seeking the death penalty," Perry said.

Scott's office struck back after Ayala's accusations Monday, saying the missed filing was her fault alone.

“It is outrageous State Attorney Ayala is attempting to pass the blame for her failure," Scott's deputy director of communications McKinley Lewis said in a statement. "Let’s be clear – State Attorney Ayala failed to meet this deadline and she alone is responsible for not fighting for justice for the victims in this case."

Read: 9 Facts: Ongoing death penalty fight between Aramis Ayala, Gov. Scott

In light of the missed deadline, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran called for Scott to remove Ayala from office.

"She should be removed from office," he said. "That's what I believe. I've said that."

When asked about the possibility of removing Ayala from office, Scott said his attention was currently on the potential death penalty cases being prosecuted appropriately.

"Right now, I'm going to focus on reassigning cases," he said.

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