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Departing state attorney won’t seek death in 3 murder cases

January 5, 2021 GMT

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A departing state attorney in central Florida filed notice that her office would not seek the death penalty in several cases, including a man accused of killing his wife and three children last year.

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala said in the notice filed Monday that concerns about Anthony Todt’s mental health played a factor in her decision, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Prosecutors had earlier said they would seek the death penalty against Todt.

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“(A)fter due consideration of the facts and law applicable to this case, including serious concerns regarding the mental health of the defendant, it is not in the best interest of the people of the State of Florida to pursue the Death Penalty as a potential sentence,” Ayala wrote.

Ayala is set to be replaced by incoming state attorney Monique Worrell.

Worrell, who has been working for the agency under Ayala since October, was elected in November. She said in a statement Tuesday that her new administration “did not coordinate with” Ayala on the death penalty decisions.

“We will establish our own review panel to examine the individual circumstances of every capital eligible case before rendering any final determinations on the matter,” she said.

Ayala filed notice that the office would not seek the death penalty against Ishnar Marie Lopez and Alexis Ramos-Rivera, two of three suspects in a botched murder-for-hire plot that ended in the 2018 kidnapping and killing of 42-year-old Janice Zengotita-Torres, the Sentinel reported.

Ayala decided against seeking a second term in office, citing her continued opposition to the death penalty as among her reasons for leaving the agency. It has been a source of tension throughout her tenure.

Soon after Ayala took office she announced she would not seek the death penalty in any cases. This included the case of Markeith Loyd, who was accused of killing an Orlando police officer. The decision caused outrage in the law enforcement community.

Ayala said then that capital punishment had been unevenly applied and was not a deterrent for serious crimes — a stance she had not publicly expressed during her campaign.

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Then-Gov. Rick Scott promptly reassigned 29 death penalty cases from her office to State Attorney Brad King of Ocala. The Republican-led Florida Legislature also slashed the budget for Ayala, a Democrat, by $1.3 million.

The reassignments sparked a legal battle that went to Florida’s high court, which ruled against Ayala. Then, she reversed her policy and created a panel of prosecutors to review future capital cases, but did not seek the return of the cases that were taken from her office by Scott.

Gov. Ron DeSantis took away another murder case this year after Osceola Sheriff Russ Gibson accused Ayala of hindering the investigation of the killing of a St. Cloud woman, Nicole Montalvo, in order to “advance her position against the death penalty.”

Ayala called Gibson’s claims, included in a letter to DeSantis, “complete blatant lies.”

Weeks after the Montalvo case was re-assigned, Ayala announced her office would seek the death penalty for Todt, pledging to get justice for the surviving and grieving family members.

“I can’t imagine the pain and agony they are going through, but we’re going to absolutely do all that we can to ensure justice is served,” Ayala said at the time.

Todt was indicted in February on four counts of first-degree murder for the deaths last January of Megan Todt, and the couple’s children — Alek, 13; Tyler, 11; and Zoe, 4. He is also accused of killing the family dog.