Newly elected local prosecutors are continuing to embrace criminal justice reform even in the law-and-order age of Donald Trump — but they will face a determined resistance.
In a rapid sequence of events in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, the new state attorney there, Aramis Ayala, announced in the morning that she would not seek the death penalty in any case that comes before her office. One of those cases involved the murder of a police officer.
By late afternoon, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, had asked her to recuse herself from that case, and when she refused, he issued an executive order reassigning it to a special prosecutor from another county, because Ayala “has made it clear that she will not fight for justice.”
Ayala, a Democrat who has been the state attorney for just three months and is the first black elected prosecutor in Florida, said in her morning announcement that “there is no evidence the death penalty protects the public.” The decision follows a similar one by Beth McCann, the recently elected district attorney in Denver, and other efforts at reform by newly installed prosecutors in Chicago, Houston, and elsewhere, as The Marshall Project reported in January.
But Ayala’s move was met with immediate criticism from law enforcement leaders, who expressed particular disappointment that she would not seek the death penalty for Markeith Loyd, an Orlando man accused of murdering both his pregnant ex-girlfriend and a police officer.
Scott then issued his executive order, reassigning the Loyd case under a rarely used state law.
Ayala said she understood the reaction of both the police and victims’ families, but that capital punishment is used too rarely to be effective as a deterrent to crime, that it often costs more taxpayer dollars than a life sentence, and ultimately provides little justice to families who go through years of appeals with no execution in sight.
And Ayala’s decision, like those of the other newly elected prosecutors this year, will still have an immediate effect: before today, her office was pursuing the death penalty in more than a dozen cases.