Anti-death-penalty prosecutor challenges Florida governor

A state attorney says Florida's governor overstepped his authority when he pulled her off a case after she said she would not pursue the death

ORLANDO, Fla. - (AP) -- A Florida state attorney says the governor overstepped his bounds when he removed her from a case after she pledged to not pursue the death penalty in any cases.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala filed a motion in court Monday asking a judge to allow her to present that argument in court.

"Every day State Attorneys here in Florida make important decisions on who to charge, what to charge and what to prioritize," Ayala wrote in the motion. "Giving the governor the tremendous and unfettered discretion to interfere in that decision making would be unprecedented and could undermine the entire justice system in Florida."

Gov. Rick Scott removed Ayala from Markeith Loyd's case and reassigned it to a prosecutor in a neighboring district after Ayala made her announcement against the death penalty last Thursday. Loyd is charged with first-degree murder in the killings of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton and his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon.

When asked in Tallahassee about Ayala's motion, Scott said he was shocked that Ayala wouldn't seek the death penalty in Loyd's case.

"I'm very comfortable that I made the right decision and I had the authority to do it," Scott said.

Scott said he would "deal with it at the time" if Ayala declined to seek the death penalty in other cases. He also did not rule out seeking her removal.

"With regards to that, we're continuing to look at our options," he said.

The confusion over who will prosecute the case was evident Monday morning during a routine status hearing for Loyd's case. Both Aramis and State Attorney Brad King, the prosecutor appointed by Scott to take over the case, were in the courtroom together.

Judge Frederick Lauten scheduled a hearing for next week to hear arguments over who should handle the case.

Ayala said in Monday's motion that the governor had no authority to remove her.

"I retain complete authority over charging and prosecution decisions," she said.

Meanwhile, almost 120 law experts from across the country sent Scott a letter urging him to reverse his decision, saying it infringed on the independence of prosecutors. The signees included two former justices of the Florida Supreme Court, a former president of the American Bar Association and dozens of law professors.

___

Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida contributed to this report.

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