Florida has executed hundreds of people since 1924. Could Aramis Ayala finally put an end to it? 

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  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro

In an interview, Perry says most civilized nations have gotten rid of the death penalty, but Florida is a little more "bloodthirsty."

"It really is a matter of retribution as opposed to deterrence," he says. "I think the majority of Floridians are against the death penalty. Perhaps the legislators are afraid they're going to be thought of as soft on crime, but life in prison without the possibility of parole is not a cupcake walk. Plus, there's the money saved and the judiciary time and effort. These people who think they're fiscal conservatives could save up to $2 million for every person on death row."

In fact, 62 percent of Floridians support sentencing convicted murderers to life in prison with no possibility of parole or similar alternatives rather than the death penalty, according to a 2016 poll from Public Policy Polling.

Florida's bloodlust has led it to several botched executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, as it fine-tunes its method of killing people. The latest one was in 2006, when Angel Nieves Diaz took 34 minutes to die after the lethal injection. An investigation later found executioners inserted the IV needles improperly into Diaz's flesh, so the drugs seeped into his skin and chemically burned his arms. When Florida's supply of one drug fell short, the state became the first in the country in 2013 to use midazolam hydrochloride, though critics argue it's debatable whether midazolam reliably renders inmates not conscious of the proceedings.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers have refused to sell their drugs to states for the purpose of death, so the state is now low on supplies of midazolam and potassium chloride, another drug used in the three-drug execution cocktail. Florida is now proposing a new drug cocktail using etomidate (a sedative that has never been used in an execution) and potassium acetate (a drug to make the heart stop beating that was accidentally used in a botched execution in Ohio). Records show the state has been stockpiling etomidate since 2016.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says there was no guarantee with Florida's old lethal cocktail that prisoners weren't experiencing pain, which would violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment: "The drugs may inhibit any physical response, but a person could be perfectly conscious and paralyzed while feeling they're burning to death."

Dunham also agrees that the death penalty has not been proven to stop people from committing horrific murders.

"There's no relationship between the death penalty and murder rates going up or down," he says. "The death penalty is inextricably linked to the legacy of slavery and lynching, and it has been used historically to reinforce a particular social order. When a prosecutor threatens that social order by validating the views of critics of the death penalty, that provokes a strong response, and the response is even stronger because the prosecutor here is black and the governor is white."

"An eye for an eye."

Ayala chose to threaten the social order with Markeith Loyd, who is allegedly about as perfect a candidate for capital punishment as they come.

Loyd, 41, is accused of fatally shooting his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon last December. After being on the run for a month, Loyd was stopped by Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton at a Walmart on Princeton Street after witnesses alerted her. After an exchange of gunfire where Clayton was hit, police say Loyd returned to shoot her in an "execution-style" manner before escaping.

After the shooting of Clayton, authorities across the region launched a massive manhunt to find him. Police found Loyd hiding in an abandoned home a week later, and aerial video of the arrest appeared to show Loyd crawling to officers to turn himself in. As officers appeared to begin kicking the prone Loyd, the camera panned away from the action to a stand of unmoving trees.

Loyd was taken to the Orange County jail with a bloodied face, and has since represented himself in court. Orlando Police Chief John Mina got wind early that prosecutors wouldn't be charging Loyd with the death penalty and said he was "extremely upset."

"Debra was given no chance to live," Mina said in statement. "A cop killer – who also killed his pregnant girlfriend – should not be given that chance."

When Ayala announced her decision, she didn't base it on any of the particulars of Loyd's case. After careful consideration, she says the death penalty doesn't have a public safety benefit, doesn't deter crime, and drags victims' families through the justice system as defendants continue to appeal their case.

"What has become abundantly clear through this process is that while I currently do have discretion to pursue death sentences, I have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community or in the best interests of justice," Ayala told reporters on March 16. "There is no justice when victims are being misled about an end that I doubt will occur."

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