9 Investigates

9 Investigates: Emails show months of collaboration between Aramis Ayala, anti-death penalty groups

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Emails dating back to January are casting doubt on Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala's claims that she made the decision to be anti-death penalty after months of research and just prior to a mid-March announcement.

Channel 9's Field Sutton pored through hundreds of pages of communications from the state attorney's office.

9 Investigates found out Ayala took advice from justice reform groups beginning on Jan. 9 and continuing through the March 16 announcement.

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of an organization called Fair and Just Prosecution, sent a message to Ayala trying to connect her with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.

Krinsky described Ayala in the emails as someone “looking for smart thinking around changing paradigms and -- most immediately -- thinking through death penalty strategies.”

Days later, Krinsky brokered a connection between Ayala and Rob Smith of Harvard Law's Fair Punishment Project, telling Ayala, “I think it would be valuable…to chat as soon as possible [with Smith] about the death penalty issues.”

Through at least Feb. 20, Ayala’s office was still using a generic public statement that talked about continuing to seek the death penalty after receiving additional guidance on its implementation following various judicial and legislative decisions.

During January and February, Krinsky continued sending lengthy notes to Ayala that were filled with advice like “it is important to not say anything that will create push back or counter pressure before you are ready to make an announcement, while also being careful to not say anything that could be viewed as counter to what you later end up rolling out.”

While all of that was happening, Stephanie Faucher, at the anti-death penalty 8th Amendment Project was sending what she called “messaging maps” to Ayala.

The documents included talking points like “the death penalty traps victims' families in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty, court hearings and waiting,” which bore a striking resemblance to a portion of Ayala’s final announcement speech.

"I've learned that the death penalty traps many victims' families in decades-long cycle of uncertainty, court hearings, appeals and waiting,” Ayala said during the March announcement.

Ayala’s spokesperson said Wednesday she disagrees with the idea that the announcement speech sounded like the materials provided by the anti-death penalty groups.

Regarding emails that tended to dispute Ayala’s claims that she made the decision shortly before her announcement, the spokesperson said the state attorney had been through an “exhaustive consideration process,” but she did not clarify the specific time frame in which the decision had been made.