TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Siding with Gov. Rick Scott, a circuit judge Tuesday signed off on the removal of Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala in the high-profile case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd, refusing to put the case on hold while the prosecutor seeks a ruling on whether the governor overstepped his authority with her ouster.
Ayala, elected last year as state attorney in Orange and Osceola counties, immediately vowed to appeal the decision.
Scott yanked Ayala from the case of Loyd --- accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and murdering Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton --- after the state attorney announced she would not seek the death penalty in Loyd's case or in any others during her time in office.
Ruling from the bench Tuesday, Orange County Circuit Judge Frederick Lauten refused to reinstate Ayala as prosecutor in the case, after Scott reassigned it to Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King, an outspoken proponent of the death penalty.
Ayala had asked the court for a temporary stay on proceedings in Loyd's case while she challenged whether Scott has the authority to oust her. More than 100 legal experts, most of them death penalty opponents, contend that Scott acted outside his executive role by reassigning the case, arguing that prosecutors like Ayala enjoy broad discretion in deciding whether to seek the death penalty in capital cases.
But in deciding King should maintain control of Loyd's prosecution, Lauten said he was unwilling to delay Loyd's case and that Scott had the power to remove Ayala.
King will let the judge know if he intends to seek the death penalty for Loyd, according to court documents.
Ayala immediately pledged to appeal Lauten's ruling.
"By inserting his personal politics into this case, Governor Scott's unprecedented action is dangerous and could compromise the prosecution of Markeith Loyd and threatens the integrity of Florida's judicial system," Ayala said in a statement Tuesday. "We will move forward to expose the governor's action as unlawful and unconstitutional in a way that does not compromise the successful prosecution of Markeith Loyd."
Scott's office issued a statement after Lauten's ruling that said the governor "stands by his decision to assign State Attorney Brad King to prosecute Markeith Loyd after State Attorney Ayala refused to recuse herself."
"As Governor Scott has continued to say, these families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served," the statement said.
Scott's swift removal of the state's first black elected state attorney, coming hours after Ayala's announcement that she would not seek death for Loyd or others, galvanized support from long-standing opponents of the death penalty and civil rights groups, including the NAACP.
But Ayala's decision to forgo the death penalty in Loyd's case, or to seek death for any other defendants accused of capital crimes, sparked outrage from Scott, Republican lawmakers and Attorney General Pam Bondi, prompting some to demand that Scott boot her from office.
This week, lawmakers revealed proposed budget plans that would slash 21 positions and more than $1.4 million from Ayala's office. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, has urged Scott to remove Ayala from her post.