State Attorney Ayala says Gov. Scott dropped the ball in death penalty filing, not her

By: Christopher Heath

Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - State Attorney Aramis Ayala was placed under scrutiny last week when she filed her intent to seek the death penalty in a Kissimmee murder case 22 days past the 45-day deadline.

Ayala, who has been at odds with Gov. Rick 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.

Earlier in the year, Scott said his office would review the first-degree murder cases in Orange and Osceola counties after Ayala made her death penalty announcement.

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

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 will examine potential capital cases and decide if seeking the death penalty is 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.

“I want to address inaccurate and misleading statements that have come from outside my office,” Ayala said Monday. “The defendant here, Ms. Mapp, committed this murder (on) April 11, which is eight days after the governor pledged to the public that he would identify all the potential death penalty cases" in Orange and Osceola counties.

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

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

Scott's office struck back Monday, saying the missed filing was Ayala's 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

WFTV legal analyst and former Chief Judge Belvin Perry criticized Ayala's argument.

"The buck stops with her," he said. "She cannot just delegate something away and walk away and not take responsibility."

Ayala also said she would re-indict Mapp, if necessary, to bring the intent to seek death motion back within the 45-day timeframe. 

That plan is suspect, Perry said.

"If you could restart the clock by re-indicting people after you've dismissed the charges, then there is no need to set any time deadlines," he said. "So, I think that argument is going to fail."

Ayala released the following statement on missing the death penalty deadline in Mapp’s case:

"I want to address some of the inaccurate and misleading statements regarding a case and the work we do in my office.

When I made my March 16 statement indicating that I was not seeking the death penalty, I was prepared to file death notices in appropriate cases to preserve any procedural deadline. However, on his own accord, Gov. Scott made a public statement committing himself to reviewing all first-degree murder cases that occurred here in the 9th Circuit. Gov. Scott further pledged to the public he would reassign any potential death penalty cases to a different circuit.

Once the Florida Supreme Court issued its ruling regarding a prosecutor’s discretion to seek death penalty, I created a death penalty review panel to review every first-degree murder case. At my direction, once they convened they reviewed every first-degree murder case since the start of my administration on January 3. I requested the panel go back to the beginning of my administration to ensure Gov. Scott did not make a mistake and miss cases, which he clearly did.

Of course, I knew the potential of some of those cases passing the 45-day (deadline). This is something the review panel discussed prior to reviewing cases. The issue was well researched, so again this was an anticipated hurdle. But it was the right thing to do and consistent with the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling.

Consistent with his public statement of reviewing and reassigning all potential death penalty cases, the governor reassigned cases in April, July and August. Unfortunately, the Governor failed to reassign this case or even acknowledge its potential as a death penalty case, despite the fact the murder occurred on April 11, 2017, and has seven potential aggravators.

It is clear, the Governor failed in his review and missed this case. 

The death penalty review panel met, discussed this case and unanimously recognized it as an obvious death case.

The state’s ability to seek death penalty has not been compromised, and with the filing of the notice of intent to seek death, we have preserved the issue and remedied the governor’s failure."

Read: Fact check: State Attorney Aramis Ayala's reasons for not pursuing the death penalty

Gov. Rick Scott's spokesman responds to Ayala's accusations: 

“It is outrageous State Attorney Ayala is attempting to pass the blame for her failure. 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.

The Supreme Court ruled in Governor Scott’s favor on August 31, 2017, giving State Attorney Ayala more than a month to file the appropriate notice by the October 7, 2017 deadline.

What possible excuse could there be for failing to do her job and missing a basic deadline on a case she is responsible for handling?”

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