(CN) – Florida Gov. Rick Scott has removed a prominent state attorney from all death penalty cases after she vowed not to pursue capital punishment in the future.
Aramis Ayala, whose office covers Orlando and surrounding Orange and Osceola counties, announced her decision to not seek the death penalty last month, including in the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd.
After a backlash from police and lawmakers, Gov. Scott issued the executive orders Monday reassigning 21 capital murder cases from Ayala’s 9th Judicial Circuit to state attorney Brad King, who is lead prosecutor for the 5th Judicial Circuit.
“Each of these cases I am reassigning represents a horrific loss of life,” Scott said in a statement. “The families who tragically lost someone deserve a state attorney who will take the time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making such an impactful decision.”
Ayala’s decision to not pursue the death penalty “sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice,” he said.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi praised Scott’s decision “for not only protecting citizens of Orlando but standing up for all crime victims and their families.”
Ayala’s spokeswoman, Eryka Washington, responded to the governor’s actions in a statement.
“Ms. Ayala remains steadfast in her position the governor is abusing his authority and has compromised the independence and integrity of the criminal justice system,” she said, noting they found out about Scott’s actions through the media.
Scott already reassigned the case involving Loyd, who is accused of shooting his pregnant girlfriend and an Orlando police officer.
Ayala, a newly-elected Democrat, defended her decision to not pursue the death penalty in that case, or any others, during a March 16 press conference.
“I have given this issue extensive and painstaking thought and consideration,” she told a throng of reporters in front of her office. “What has become abundantly clear through this process is that while I currently do have discretion to pursue death sentences, I have determined that doing so is not in the best interest of this community or in the best interest of justice.”
“Let me be very clear however, I will continue to hold people who do harm to this community accountable for their actions,” she continued. “I will do so in a way that is sensible, fair and just.”
Ayala pointed to the “legal chaos, uncertainty and turmoil” surrounding the state’s death penalty statute.
In the last year, the capital punishment statute was twice declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court, because the law did not require a unanimous decision by the jury.
In one of the first bills to pass the state’s legislative session, lawmakers changed the law last month to require unanimous jury recommendations in death penalty cases.
Florida has 371 inmates on death row – the second highest number in the nation.