TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's Republican governor on Monday took 21 more first-degree murder cases away from a Democratic prosecutor who has said she will no longer seek the death penalty.
Gov. Rick Scott gave the cases being handled by Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala to neighboring judicial circuit State Attorney Brad King.
Ayala has come under fire recently after announcing she wouldn't seek the death penalty against Markeith Loyd or any other defendant. Loyd is charged with killing an Orlando police lieutenant and his pregnant ex-girlfriend earlier this year. Scott took the Loyd case away from Ayala last month and reassigned it to King.
"If you look at these cases they are horrendous cases," Scott told The Associated Press. "And so I'm going to continue to think about the families and that's how I made my decision today."
In a statement, Scott added that "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."
Ayala's spokeswoman said Scott never notified her office about his order and that the prosecutor instead learned about it through the news media.
"Ms. Ayala remains steadfast in her position the Governor is abusing his authority and has compromised the independence and integrity of the criminal justice system," said Eryka Washington.
Ayala has said she plans to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the governor's action stripping her of the Loyd case.
Ayala's decision to no longer seek the death penalty for defendants has stirred strong opinions. Civil rights groups and faith groups have praised her, while many Republicans lawmakers and law enforcement have criticized her.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said regardless of her position on the death penalty, Ayala needs to follow the law.
"Whenever decisions are made regarding the prosecution of individuals, the prosecutor must take into consideration the will and the desire of the victim's survivors," he said.
Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa called Scott's actions a "gross abuse of his power."
"The governor is attempting to set dangerous precedent that would destroy the idea of independence for state attorneys throughout Florida who must now fear political retribution by the state's most powerful politician if they make a decision he disagrees with," Shaw said in a news release.
Associated Press writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report.