Anti-death penalty prosecutor taken off case

Orlando’s top prosecutor has been removed from a case involving the murder of a police officer after she said she would not seek the death penalty.

Republican Governor Rick Scott transferred the case of Markeith Loyd out of the office of Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

Loyd is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Lieutenant Debra Clayton. He faces two counts of first-degree murder and other charges.

Ms Ayala, who was elected last autumn, announced on Thursday that she would not seek the capital punishment against Loyd, saying there is no evidence that executions improve public safety.

She said: “I have given this issue extensive thought and consideration.

“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.”

Gov Scott immediately asked Ms Ayala to recuse herself, but she refused.

In a statement, Mr Scott said: “[Ms Ayala] has made it clear that she will not fight for justice and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case.”

Markeith Loyd, wanted in connection with the shooting death of an Orlando police officer, is shown in this undated booking photo
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Markeith Loyd is facing two counts of first-degree murder

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.”

However, the law does allow a governor to reassign a particular case for “good and sufficient” reasons.

Ms Ayala’s comments drew condemnation from law-enforcement officials, with Orlando Police Chief John Mina saying he was “extremely upset”.

“The heinous crimes that he committed in our community are the very reason we have the death penalty as an option under the law,” he said in a statement.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called Ms Ayala’s decision “a blatant neglect of duty”.

However, some civil rights groups, including Amnesty International USA, welcomed MS Ayala’s stance.

This week, Mr Scott signed legislation tightening state 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 after executions were halted in the last year by the Constitutional Court.

Loyd was arrested in January after a manhunt that drew widespread attention.

Authorities say he shot Ms Dixon at her home in December, and Lt Clayton a month later as she tried to apprehend him.

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