Florida’s governor has reassigned a case involving the killing of an Orlando police officer after a prosecutor said she would not seek the death penalty.
A spokesperson for Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that the governor was taking State Attorney Aramis Ayala off the Markieth Loyd case after her office announced it would no longer seek the death penalty in cases.
“I am outraged and sickened by this loss of life and many families’ lives have been forever changed because of these senseless murders. These families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Markeith Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served,” Scott said in the statement.
Through an executive order, the case was handed off to State Attorney Brad King, a prosecutor in a neighboring district northwest of Orlando.
According to FOX 35 Orlando, Scott had earlier asked Ayala to recuse herself from handing Loyd’s case; however she refused.
Under Florida law, a governor can only suspend an elected official for "malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, habitual drunkenness, incompetence, or permanent inability to perform official duties." But the law does allow a governor to reassign a particular case for "good and sufficient" reasons.
Loyd faces two first-degree murder counts and other charges in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon and Lt. Debra Clayton. Authorities have said Dixon was fatally shot at her home in December and that Clayton was gunned down Jan. 9 outside a Wal-Mart while attempting to capture Loyd.
Ayala defended her decision on Thursday, saying capital punishment in Florida has led to “chaos, uncertainty and turmoil.”
She argued that the evidence showed that the death penalty did not increase public safety and that it was not “in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice.”
"I have given this issue extensive, painstaking thought and consideration," Ayala said at a news conference Thursday. "What has become abundantly clear through this process is that while I do have discretion to pursue death sentences, I have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community or in the best interests of justice."
Ayala’s decision caused outrage in Florida, especially from Orlando Police Chief John Mina.
Here is a statement from @ChiefJohnMina about the State Attorney’s decision regarding Markeith Loyd: pic.twitter.com/qlvFR84Kua
— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) March 16, 2017
“I have seen the video of Markieth Loyd executing Lt. Debra Clayton while she lay defenseless on the ground. She was given no chance to live. A cop killer – who also killed his pregnant girlfriend should not be given a chance,” Mina said in a statement posted on Twitter. “The heinous crimes that he committed in our community are the very reason we have the death penalty as an option under the law.”
Dixon’s father, Ron Daniels, seemed to support Ayala, despite her decision.
"Life, no chance of parole, we get closure, but now if you give him the death penalty, he comes back,” he told Fox 35 Orlando. “Every time he appeals this family or any family has to relive that case all over again."
He said with or without the death penalty, Loyd would still die in prison, if convicted.
Legal challenges in the past year brought executions to a halt in Florida. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the state’s sentencing law unconstitutional because it gave judges too much power to make the ultimate decision. State lawmakers responded with a new law that capital punishment be decided by split juries, with at least a 10-2 vote. The state Supreme Court struck that down, ordering unanimous jury decisions.
Ayala announced her categorical opposition only days after Scott signed a bill complying with the court requirements.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.