ORLANDO, Fla. - Since State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced the formation of a panel to review whether the death penalty should be sought in a case, Channel 9 has been pouring through records for the seven members.
All are assistant state attorneys, six of them permanent members, who have prosecuted a wide variety of cases, including some seeking the death penalty.
It was formed after Gov. Rick Scott took 30 cases from Ayala’s office because she vowed not to seek the death penalty in any case prosecuted by her office.
Ayala fought the move, but the Florida Supreme Court sided with Scott.
As a group, the members of the death penalty review panel have prosecuted 1,900 cases since 2012, records show.
With 1,100, more than half of the cases were prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Kenneth Nunnelly.
Assistant State Attorney Deborah Barra has the second most prosecutions at 455.
WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer warned against judging the experience level or abilities of a prosecutor by the number of cases they have worked.
“What you have to look at is the panel as a whole,” Sheaffer said.
Assistant state attorneys Candra Moore and Gabrielle Sanders have both prosecuted about 50 cases since 2012.
Moore serves on a task force combating human trafficking and mid-level drug trafficking and Sanders worked with a domestic violence felony unit in Osceola County.
Working in specialty areas generally results in few prosecutions, Sheaffer said.
“The more complex the cases that you handle, you’re going to handle fewer because it takes a greater degree of concentration, expertise and preparation,” he said.
For the death penalty to be sought in a case, the panel must be unanimous, which Sheaffer said would be a difficult thing to do.
“It’s hard to get seven ordinary citizens to agree on anything,” he said. “It may be darned impossible to get seven lawyers to agree on anything.”
While Ayala hopes the panel will allow her office to continue prosecuting cases where the death penalty could be sought, Scott has not said if its existence would keep him from removing cases from her office.
“We will continue to review the details that come out of the state attorney’s office, but the governor must be convinced that the death penalty will be sought as outlined in Florida law, when appropriate,” Scott’s office said in a media statement. “The governor will always stand with crime victims and their families.”
The SAO says the death penalty review panel has met once so far since SA Ayala put it together. They discussed protocols/procedures @WFTV— Samantha Manning (@SamanthaWFTV) October 16, 2017
The SAO says the death penalty review panel will be meeting again to review death penalty cases from Jan. 1, 2017 to present day @WFTV— Samantha Manning (@SamanthaWFTV) October 16, 2017
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