In what is sure to be one of the hottest races in Florida come the 2020 elections, former prosecutor Ryan Williams will challenge State Attorney Aramis Ayala in the Ninth District covering Orange and Osceola Counties.
Ayala made national headlines shortly after taking office in 2016 when she revealed she would not seek the death penalty for accused cop killer Markeith Loyd who was wanted for the murder of his girlfriend Sade Dixon when he allegedly gunned down Orlando police officer Debra Clayton when she tried to detain him outside an Orlando Wal-Mart.
When Ayala took office, Williams was one of the top prosecutors in the Ninth District, handling several of the highest profile murder cases including the two counts of murder against Loyd. He had no idea he was about to be blindsided with the news she would no longer pursue death against Loyd or other accused murderers.
“I was not on the inner circle,” Williams said. “I didn’t know anything about that decision until the day before.”
Confused and disheartened, Williams sat in a meeting with the families of Clayton and Dixon, along with State Attorney Brad King, who was handed all of the high profile murder cases by then Gov. Rick Scott. Williams was there to hand over the case files but King had other ideas.
“Quite frankly, I expected him to say ‘Thank you but we know Mr. Williams is a nice guy, but we are going to take it from here’, but that’s not what he said,” Williams said.
Williams went to work on the Loyd case, not expecting any trouble from his former employer Ayala.
“I thought that Mrs. Ayala would understand I was trying to help the family of the victims, and that I wanted to ensure continuity, and that it would not be an issue. I was wrong,” Williams said.
Scott was urged to remove Ayala from office but chose not to. Instead her ability to decide whether or not to issue a blanket order against the death penalty went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. Ayala was on one side with Williams, her top prosecutor, on the other.
“I also personally did not believe that she was not following the law with her decision. I think my belief was borne out by the Florida Supreme Court’s decision,” Williams said.
Ayala now seeks the death penalty as suitable when a committee she formed recommends it.
While Williams knows the Loyd case and death penalty edict will be a central part of the campaign, he knows they won’t be the only issues.
Williams slammed Ayala over her commitment to justice and her current position.
“She dabbled in prosecution for a couple of years. She didn’t have a ton of success in doing so to my knowledge,” Williams said.
Williams claims Ayala does not have justice for victims as her top priority and pledges to make a promise to prosecutors: “the person leading the office is interested in seeking justice for victims and the accused and does not believe you have to throw out one to do the other.”
The Ninth Circuit takes 50,000 cases a year and has 180 prosecutors. Williams believes the office cannot retain its lawyers and is using inexperienced prosecutors to try cases.
Ayala isn’t ready to get down in the mud with Williams just yet. She released a statement through her office.
“It is important to avoid distractions and respond to things that are legitimate and worthy of a response. I will continue to lead this community in seeking justice. I remain in the fight for change and progress. Most importantly, I remain focused on the job I have, not the job someone else wants,” she said.
Ayala got more than $1million in help in the last election from George Soros, a staunch death penalty opponent. She defeated former Casey Anthony prosecutor Jeff Ashton in 2016 and may look to Soros again for help if she runs for reelection.
Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.