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By Julie Brown Patton

Florida media representatives report emotions were running high after newly elected State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced Thursday her office would not seek the death penalty in any cases in Florida's 9th Judicial Circuit, which includes Orlando.

"Under my administration, I will not be seeking the death penalty in cases handled by my office," Ayala, a Democrat, said Thursday morning at a news conference in front of the Orange County Courthouse.

The policy begins with perhaps the highest-profile, potential death penalty case that has come along in Orlando in years, that of alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd, reports Florida Politics. Ayala said she would prosecute Loyd for life imprisonment for the alleged murders of his pregnant girlfriend Sade Dixon last December and that of Orlando Police Master Sergeant Debra Clayton in January.

Ayala said she made the overall decision about capital punishment after asking her staff for a full review of the death penalty, Florida's law, including the newly-enacted statute approved by the Florida Legislature this Session, and case history. After reviewing the findings, she said only then did she conclude she could not and would not pursue death penalty prosecutions. "I took an oath to support, protect and defend the Constitution and the American Bar Association rules of conduct outline my duties as a prosecutor," she said.

 

"My duty is to seek justice, which is fairness, objectivity and decency. I am to seek reform and to improve the administration of justice. I am prohibited from making the severity of my sentences the index of my effectiveness."

Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and pastor of Calvario City Church in Orlando, said, "As pastors, we recognize that this is a difficult and sensitive matter and are committed to finding holistic healing alternatives. By naming a broken program, Ms. Ayala creates hope in the community for working together to find better alternatives."

"I applaud State Attorney Ayala's announcement to no longer seek the death penalty. People of faith across Florida are deeply troubled by capital punishment -- its needless destruction of human life, its toll on murder victims' families, and its enormous cost to the state," agreed Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer, executive director of Florida Council of Churches.

Ayala said what became abundantly clear to her through her review process is that while she currently does have discretion to pursue death sentences, she determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community, or in the best interest of justice.

"Aramis Ayala was elected as State Attorney for the Orlando area because of her promise to bring reform to the criminal justice system. It is refreshing to see her live up to her commitments and embrace policies that achieve accountability and safety without sacrificing fairness," said Wes Lathrop, Faith in Florida executive director.

"As an organization that represents people of faith, her decision to reject a death penalty system that has been disproportionately used against poor people and communities of color is an act of moral leadership."

Not everyone agrees with Ayala's new legal stance, however. "State Attorney Aramis Ayala's decision today sends a dangerous message to residents and visitors of the greater Orlando area - furthermore, it is a blatant neglect of duty and a shameful failure to follow the law as a constitutionally elected officer," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi declared in a written statement.

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