Florida lawmakers aim to cut Aramis Ayala's budget because she won't seek death penalty

YouTube

Republican lawmakers in Florida called for budget cuts Monday aimed at hamstringing Aramis Ayala, the Orange-Osceola state attorney who announced Thursday that she would not seek the death penalty during her tenure.

"[Our] team feels it prudent to revisit our recommendation to the committee as regards to [the Ninth Judicial Circuit's] budget," Florida Rep. Scott Plakon told the House Judicial Appropriations Subcommittee, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "Previously, we used more or less an across-the-board approach and now believe a more targeted approach might be more appropriate."

Ayala is the first and only black elected prosecutor in Florida history. Ever since she publicly opposed capital punishment last week, local Republicans have been in a feeding frenzy, going to extreme lengths to attack Ayala and undermine her authority.

Gov. Rick Scott used his executive power to remove Ayala from a high-profile murder case Friday because she declined to ask for the death penalty. A few hours later, 19 of Florida's 20 state attorneys — excluding only Ayala — published a statement rebuking Ayala and affirming their own commitment to executing people.

"Throughout 19 of the 20 circuits of Florida, the death penalty will continue to be sought in those cases which qualify for its implementation," the statement read, according to the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Gov. Rick Scott  Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Monday's budget proposal from the subcommittee suggests that the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature is also invested in cutting Ayala's legs out from under her. (Ironically, by gutting her budget, they'd be making it harder for her to prosecute all her other cases as well.)

But one of the more bizarre aspects of this case is how frantically the local GOP is clinging to blind ideology over justice and discretion. Prosecutors are granted the power to decide when seeking the death penalty is appropriate, and usually do so with little interference from lawmakers. Asking for capital punishment is optional, not required. In this light, the panic Ayala's announcement has induced in the Florida statehouse is startling — both in terms of its outright aggression and its infringement on prosecutorial discretion.

The governor has also accused Ayala of refusing to "fight for justice" in the case of Markeith Loyd, who is accused of murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton. But Dixon's parents have both publicly asked that Loyd not be given the death penalty.

"We all need to stand behind [Aramis Ayala]," Dixon's mother, Stephanie Dixon-Daniels, said Friday, according to WKMG. "I want [Loyd] dead as anybody else. But he will die in prison."

The Florida Legislature, March 7, 2017  Steve Cannon/AP

All of this is especially notable considering the Kafka-esque absurdity that defines the death penalty in Florida. The Sunshine State has the second largest death row in the United States, housing almost 400 people. Nearly 40% of Florida's death row inmates are black, despite black people — as a whole — making up less than 17% of the state's population.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2016 that the state's capital punishment procedures were unconstitutional, after which the Florida Supreme Court ruled that juries had to agree unanimously before they could sentence someone to death (before, they could do so via 7-5 majority). 

The United States remains the only North American country that still has the death penalty, and lags behind most of Europe, Africa and South and Central America. There is still no evidence the death penalty deters crime.

Plakon, the Florida representative, did not immediately respond to Mic's request for comment.