This story was last posted on: 6:55 p.m., Monday, April 03, 2017.

Gov. Rick Scott has removed State Attorney Aramis Ayala from almost two dozen more first-degree murder cases.

Scott signed an executive order Monday morning reassigning 21 cases in the Ninth Judicial Circuit to State Attorney Brad King, the Governor's Office said.

“The families who tragically lost someone deserve a state attorney who will take the time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making such an impactful decision. ... State Attorney 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,” Scott said in a news release.

Six of the cases involve people who have not been prosecuted. The other 15 are on death row and will get new sentencing hearings under Florida's new death penalty rules just signed into law.


Case number


Darell Avant


State filed for death penalty Nov. 23, 2015

DeMorris Andy Hunter


State filed for death penalty Feb. 13, 2015

David Lewis Payne


State filed for death penalty March 14, 2016

Larry Perry


State filed for death penalty Dec. 17, 2013

Juan Rosario


State filed for death penalty Nov. 21, 2014

Sanel Saint-Simon


State filed for death penalty April 7, 2015

Dolan Darling (a k a  Sean Smith)


New sentencing hearing

Steven Maurice Evans


New sentencing hearing

David Sylvester Frances


New sentencing hearing

Thomas Lee Gudinas


New sentencing hearing

John S. Huggins


New sentencing hearing

Sonny Ray Jeffries


New sentencing hearing

Jermaine Lebron


New sentencing hearing

Derrick McLean


New sentencing hearing

Lionel Michael Miller


New sentencing hearing

Robert Ira Peede


New sentencing hearing

Theodore Rodgers Jr.


New sentencing hearing

Henry Perry Sireci Jr.


New sentencing hearing

Dusty Ray Spencer


New sentencing hearing

William Melvin White


New sentencing hearing

Todd A. Zommer


New sentencing hearing

A spokeswoman for Ayala accused Scott of abusing his authority.

"There was never official notification from his (the governor's) office," Eryka Washington said. "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."

State Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa) called Scott's actions a "gross abuse of his power."

For his part, King said that after the Markeith Loyd case was reassigned to him, he and the other state attorneys thought other first-degree murder cases would likely be reassigned. During a weekly conference call, King and the other state attorneys decided that if that happened, his office, which is closest to Orange County, would be the one to pick up the cases.

King oversees the Fifth Judicial Circuit, which covers Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, and Sumter counties.

He and his office will go through each reassigned case and evaluate whether it should proceed as a death penalty case, he said.

Six cases are pending at the circuit level and fifteen cases are in some form of appeal, King said. Any extra funding will have to be decided by the state legislature and is still in the legislative process.

One case not included on the listed 21 is that of convicted killer Bessman Okafor, who was sentenced to death in 2015 for the murder of Alex Zaldivar.

The Governor's Office clarified why that case was left out, saying, "The Bessman Okafor case cannot be reassigned until the direct appeal to the Florida Supreme Court is decided. However, this is one of the many horrific cases in the Ninth Judicial Circuit that deserve a state attorney who will review every individual fact and circumstance before making a decision on what sentence to pursue."

Last month, Ayala outraged Scott and scores of law enforcement agencies and organizations when she said she would not seek death sentences as the Orlando area's top prosecutor. She called a news conference to say that she thought pursuing the death penalty was "not in the best interests of this community or the best interests in justice."

She said if the death penalty system were "better" in the state of Florida, she would reconsider her decision.