Central Florida Leaders Clash Over Murder Prosecutions

A long-simmering feud in Central Florida is turning into an all-out war between State Attorney Aramis Ayala and Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson over the prosecution of two men the sheriff believes to be murders. Now, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody may have to step in and resolve the dispute.

Ever since she announced she would not seek the death penalty shortly after taking office in 2017, Ayala has had a rocky relationship with law enforcement in the two counties she serves. This acrimony has now turned into dueling press conferences over the murder of Nicole Montalvo back in October. Within days of the killing, detectives located the remains of Montalvo on the property of her father-in-law Angel Rivera and her estranged husband Christopher Otero-Rivera. Both men were arrested.

Since then, the case has completely gone off the tracks. Ayala never formally charged the pair with murder, saying there just is not enough evidence to convict them. Finally, she held a press conference to speak up on the issue, saying “her silence ends today.”

Ayala’s and Gibson’s infighting went public at the media event. The battle between the two first erupted back in late November when Rivera and Otera-Rivera got their bond reduced dramatically because the state attorney did not file murder charges in the 33-day window state law gives the office to file those charges. Gibson thinks the state has a great case. Ayala disagrees and told Gibson that from the very start.

At her media event, Ayala did not mince words.

“I will no longer expose my office and my homicide team to blame and lies,” she announced, intimating Gibson’s actions in the case reek of a man who is more concerned with his next election. Ayala is not running for reelection, something she noted.  “I, on the other hand, don’t have an upcoming election, nor any interest in pandering for selfish gain at the expense of truth and justice.”

“We advised the sheriff against arresting because the moment an arrest occurs, our time is limited to bring a killer to justice. I want to make this point very clear: without an arrest, there are no time constraints, no clocks are ticking,” she added.

Gibson won’t get into details of the case, but Ayala did, saying the sheriff does not know and cannot prove who actually killed Nicole Montalvo and how it happened.

“The sheriff blatantly ignored our advice not to arrest in this case. Instead, prior to being able to provide admissible evidence regarding the manner of death, and who actually killed Nicole Montalvo which are both required to file charges and to prosecute, he chose to go on television and say that he was going to ask for the death penalty in this case. Not only was it out of order, it was disingenuous,” Ayala said.

She told the assembled media the truth hurts while ripping into Gibson.

“I refuse to be a part of a public spectacle that has been created by the sheriff. On several occasions, he has offered as facts things that are simply not true. He has made conclusions that are in direct conflict with the evidence or significant lack thereof,” she said.

Gibson is fed up and has gone over Ayala’s head, taking the case to Moody.

“From the beginning, our goal is to bring justice to Nicole Montalvo, her family and the citizens of Osceola County. After it became apparent that the State Attorney’s Office was not interested in pursuing homicide charges, my office began exploring ways to get a second opinion,” Gibson said, defending his work on the case and asking the governor to step in and take over.

“After watching the press conference by State Attorney Ayala this morning, I believe that justice can only be achieved in this case if it is given to the Office of Statewide Prosecution. My office will continue to work to ensure justice for Nicole Montalvo, her family, and the citizens of Osceola County,” he added.

Moody will take the case to Gov. Ron  DeSantis to see if he wants to remove Ayala from the case and appoint a special prosecutor. There is precedent for this involving Ayala.  State Attorney Brad King has been assigned a few dozen murder cases that then Gov. Rick Scott took away from Ayala when she was refusing to seek the death penalty. Since that time, she formed a panel on the death penalty to look over cases and make recommendations. Her office is seeking the death penalty in four active cases.

Ayala asked the public for more help with evidence in the case in order to bring justice. Standing beside Ayala, Nicole Montalvo’s younger brother Steven asked for the help.

“Think about the eight-year-old boy who no longer has a mother. Think about the family that no longer has a sister, a daughter, a friend. Think about that before you decide to be quiet,” he said.


Reach Mike Synan at mike.synan@floridadaily.com.


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