Florida governor takes prosecutor off murder cases for death penalty stance

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., April 3 (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott on Monday removed a prosecutor from 21 murder cases in the Orlando area because she has said she would not seek the death penalty during her tenure.

The Republican governor previously took Aramis Ayala, the elected prosecutor in central Florida's Ninth Judicial Circuit, off the case of a man accused of killing an Orlando police officer after she refused to consider capital punishment.

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State Attorney Aramis Ayala
In a news conference on the steps of the Orange County Courthouse, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announces her office will no longer pursue the death penalty as a sentence in any case brought before the 9th Judicial Circuit of Florida, Thursday, March 16, 2017. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has taken away 21 more first-degree murder cases from Ayala because she refuses to seek the death penalty. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Orange/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala, left, chats Monday, March 20, 2017 with State Attorney Brad King, District 5, the newly appointed prosecutor. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Markeith Loyd attends a status court hearing Monday, March 20, 2017 in Orlando, Fla. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Special prosecutor Brad King, left, listens Monday, March 20, 2017 to State Attorney Aramis Ayala asking for Markeith Loyd's case to pause while she researches if Gov. Rick Scott had the authority to pull her off after she announced she wouldn't be seeking the death penalty. Loyd was in court Monday morning for the first time since Ayala, the elected state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, said she would not seek the death penalty for Loyd. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Orange/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala, asked for Markeith Loyd's case to pause Monday, March 20, 2017 while she researches if Gov. Rick Scott had the authority to pull her off after she announced she wouldn't be seeking the death penalty. Loyd was in court Monday morning for the first time since Ayala, the elected state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, said she would not seek the death penalty for Loyd. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Markeith Loyd makes an obscene gesture toward cameras during his status hearing Monday, March 20, 2017 in Orlando, Fla. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Special Prosecutor Brad King, left, meets the family of Sade Dixon during Markeith Loyd's status hearing Monday, March 20, 2017 in Orlando, Fla. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
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Scott said he now was reassigning all 22 cases from Ayala, a Democrat whose district includes Orange and Osceola counties, to the state attorney in a nearby district "in the interest of justice."

"State Attorney Ayala's complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice," Scott said in a statement.

Ayala took office in January and has a four-year term.

Ayala's office issued a statement on Monday saying she remains steadfast in her position that Scott is "abusing his authority and has compromised the independence and integrity of the criminal justice system."

Ayala last month cited "legal chaos" surrounding Florida's death penalty system as her reason for not pursuing the execution of Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing an Orlando policewoman on Jan. 9, or anyone suspected in a homicide.

Ayala's announcement outraged law enforcement groups, some state lawmakers and State Attorney General Pam Bondi.

RELATED: Notable death penalty executions and people on death row

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Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
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Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
Seated on his bunk in the death cell of Iberia Parish Courthouse, convinced that 'The Lord is Still with Me,' is Willie Francis, a 17-year-old who won a million-to-one chance of a reprieve from death when the electric chair failed to kill him, or even hurt him, at his scheduled execution on May 3. Sentenced to die for the murder of a St. Martinville druggist a year ago, Francis was strapped in the chair. The current was applied. The doomed man squirmed and jumped. But when the current was shut off, he was unharmed. 'It tickled a little,' he said. The state will try again to carry out the execution on Thursday May 9th.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

This is John Wayne Gacy's police arrest photo from Dec. 21, 1978. Following intensive research, investigation and surveillance, Gacy was arrested by the Des Plaines (Ill.) Police Department on Thursday, Dec. 21, 1978. After being charged with and serving time for 33 murders, Gacy was executed in 1994 by lethal injection. Today, Monday, Nov. 23, 1998, technicians began preliminary work on a possible excavation at an apartment building on Chicago's Northwest Side in search of as many as four more possible victims of the mass murderer. The apartment building at one time, was the home of Gacy's mother, and Gacy had done some construction work there. The information regarding the location was recently released from a retired Chicago police officer who said he had seen Gacy carrying a shovel near the area at about 3 a.m. one day in 1975. The former officer reportedly thought little of the Gacy sighting until three years later, when Gacy was charged with 33 murders. The apartment building is about four miles away from Gacy's house.

(Des Plaines Police Department, Tim Boyle)

A portrait of mass murderer Ted Bundy, responsible for a string of murders in Washington state, Utah, and Florida in the 1970s. He was executed in in Florida on January 24, 1989. His actual victim count remains unknown.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Aileen Wuornos is shown in this undated photograph from the Florida Department of Corrections. Wournos was executed by lethal injection October 9, 2002 in Florida for murdering six men when she was a prostitute.

(Photo by Florida DOC/Getty Images)

Admitted mass-slayer Charles Starkweather is shown entering court for the second day of his trial for murder. Starkweather admitted killing 11 people and was executed in Nebraska on June 25, 1959. 

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is shown being escorted from the Noble County Courthouse as he is transported to Oklahoma City for arraignment in this April 22, 1995 file photo. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was executed after being sentenced to death for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, a crime that took 168 lives and shook a complacent America to the core.

(Jim Bourg / Reuters)

Gary Gilmore, responsible for the shooting deaths of two men, was executed in Utah on January 17, 1977.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Media witnesses to the firing squad execution of John Albert Taylor examine the chair in which Taylor sat as he was shot to death at 12:03 a.m. Mountain time January 26 at the Unita State Penitentiary in Utah. The execution of Taylor was the first by firing squad in the United States since the 1977 execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah.

(POOL New / Reuters)

Stanley 'Tookie Williams' was responsible for several murders and other crimes and was executed in California on December 13, 2005. Williams helped found the Crips gang, but was later nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-gang efforts. He authored such books as 'Life in Prison,' encouraging kids to stay out of gangs, and his memoir 'Blue Rage, Black Redemption'.'

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Teresa Lewis, convicted of murdering her husband and stepson, was executed in Virginia on September 23, 2010. She was the first woman executed in the state in nearly 100 years.

(REUTERS/Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout)

William Bonin (left), a 33-year-old truck driver and registered sex offender, was accused of the 'torture' murders of at least 13 and possibly 21 young males, suspected victims of the so called 'Freeway Killer. He was executed in California on February 23, 1996.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also said Vernon Butts (right) was an accomplice in at least six of the 21 murders.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, responsible for Boston Marathon bombing, was sentenced to death on May 15, 2015.

(Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in a mass shooting at the U.S. Army post in Fort Hood, Texas, was sentenced to death on August 28, 2013.

(Ho New / Reuters)

Joseph E. Duncan III, a convicted murderer and sex offender, was sentenced to death on August 27, 2008.

 (Photo provided by Kootenai County Sheriff's Department via Getty Images)

Coy Wesbrook was executed in 2016. He fatally shot five people in 1997 with a hunting rifle in a killing spree launched when he found his ex-wife having sex with other men.

(REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via Reuters)

Dylann Roof, the man convicted of murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston was condemned to death by a federal jury on January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Charleston County Sheriff's Office/Handout)

Death row inmate Ricky Gray is shown in this undated photo released in Washington, DC, U.S. in 2016. Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Christopher Wilkins, 48, Texas death row inmate convicted of killing two people in a revenge plot after one had tricked him in a $20 drug deal, is shown in this undated photo in Huntsville, Texas, U.S.. Courtesy Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
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Others rose in her defense. Last week, groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organized a rally in the state capital of Tallahassee to show support for Ayala and prosecutorial independence.

Roy Austin, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney hired by Ayala to fight her removal from the Loyd case, said in a telephone interview on Monday that Scott's move is unprecedented in the United States.

Scott last month signed legislation tightening Florida law to require a unanimous recommendation by a jury before judges can impose the death penalty.

The law is the state's latest effort to restart its death penalty process, which was put on hold last year after rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court in separate cases.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bill Trott)

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