In a startling denunciation of capital punishment in a state with one of the largest death rows, the new chief prosecutor in Orlando said her office would no longer seek the death penalty, the New York Times reports. The decision by State Attorney Aramis Ayala of the Ninth Judicial Circuit could have widespread repercussions in Florida if other prosecutors follow suit. Nationwide, support for the death penalty has steadily declined, along with the number of executions. In Florida, years of litigation and legislative maneuvering have left the capital punishment system in turmoil. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called Ayala’s decision a “blatant neglect of duty,” and Gov. Rick Scott removed her from a case involving an Orlando police officer’s death.
Florida has not carried out any executions since January 2016, and the state has 381 prisoners on death row. Twenty-two of them were convicted in Orange or Osceola Counties, in Ayala’s jurisdiction. Ayala said the death penalty had failed as a deterrent and that it did nothing to protect law enforcement officers. She also cited the length of time between sentencing and execution, which often exceeds a decade, and the costs of capital cases. “Punishment is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly,” she said. “Neither describe the death penalty in this state.” On Tuesday, Ayala’s spokeswoman said the office was seeking death sentences in six cases. By yesterday, the office had reversed its stand, throwing into question the potential punishment in a high-profile case against Markeith Loyd, who the police said killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend and then gunned down an officer, Lt. Debra Clayton, as she tried to apprehend him.