State Attorney Aramis Ayala filed her intent to seek the death penalty in the case of a woman accused of killing a man in a Kissimmee hotel room in April.
The suspect’s attorneys, though, argue that prosecutors missed the 45-day deadline by more than three weeks and should not be able to seek execution in the case.
Emerita Mapp is accused of stabbing 20-year-old Zachary Ganoe to death and critically injuring another man at a Days Inn in the 2900 block of Polynesian Isle Boulevard.
She faces charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in the case.
Ayala, who had previously vowed she would not seek the death penalty in any case prosecuted by her office, announced on Sept. 1, the formation of a panel to decide when capital punishment is appropriate in a case.
The deadline to seek the death penalty in Mapp’s case was Oct. 9, 45 calendar days after her Aug. 23 arraignment.
Ayala’s death penalty panel did not meet to discuss Mapp’s charges until 15 days after the Oct. 9 deadline, Chief Assistant State Attorney Deborah Barra told Channel 9.
Barra announced the state’s intent to seek the death penalty for Mapp the next day during an Orange County Bar Association luncheon.
Mapp’s attorneys filed a motion this week to strike the state’s death penalty filing, saying it was 22 days late.
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WFTV legal analyst and former Chief Judge Belvin Perry said the late filing is a major blow to Ayala.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to bring up a lot of questions,” he said. “One, was this intentional? Two, how did it happen? A lot of people have expressed she turned the corner, but to miss a deadline by 22 days is unacceptable.
“How do you lose the first to-be murder case (in which) you’re going to seek the death penalty and you miss a filing deadline?”
Perry said it was unlikely the judge in Mapp’s case would allow the state to seek the death penalty in light of prosecutors missing the filing deadline.
“The state is required to show good cause,” he said. “In this particular case, they are not amending a notice, they never did timely file a notice.
“They are basically barred from seeking the death penalty in this case.”
[ Watch: State Attorney Aramis Ayala announces formation of death penalty review panel ]
Regardless of whether the mistake was a mistake or done on purpose, Perry said an internal investigation needs to be initiated.
“Absolutely, they should conduct an internal investigation to determine actually what happened in this particular case,” he said. “Whose responsibility was it, and why did they miss the deadline? These are very serious questions that need to be answered, and I suspect the public would want to know what happened."
Gov. Rick Scott, who reassigned numerous cases over Ayala’s refusal to seek the death penalty, condemned her office for missing the filing deadline.
“It is absolutely outrageous that Aramis Ayala failed to seek justice in the case against Emertia Mapp who is accused of attacking multiple people and killing Zackery Ganoe. I have been clear that I stand with the victims of crime and their families, and they deserve answers from the State Attorney’s Office on how this critical deadline was not met,” Scott said in a statement. “I’ll continue to review reassigning cases from her office since she is failing to fight for victims and their families.”
Ayala’s office released a statement Friday, saying there was nothing inappropriate about the timing of the death penalty notice.
“We believe that the timing of our filing of the notice to seek death is appropriate,” the statement said. “As such, we are prepared to litigate this issue.”
Scott has already removed Ayala from 24 cases over her death penalty stance and there have been some in the Florida Legislature that have called for him to remove her from office.
The Florida Constitution gives Scott the authority to suspend certain state officers, including a state attorney, but for her to be removed from office altogether, the state Senate would have to get involved.
The committee on criminal justice would hold hearings, evaluate evidence and witness testimony and then decide if the removal should proceed to the full Senate.
If a majority of senators voted to remove Ayala from office, she would then be removed from her post.
Cox Media Group