Florida Gov. Removes State Attorney From Death Penalty Case

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala speaks with reporters about her decision to not pursue the death penalty during her administration.

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Renata Sago/WMFE

There’s high drama in Florida over a prosecutor’s decision not to seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing a police officer.

And the Florida governor’s decision to assign a different state attorney to the case is reigniting Florida’s death penalty debate yet again, after the law spent a contentious year in court.

For much of last year, executions in Florida were on hold. That’s because Florida’s Supreme Court said the way judges and juries decided on the death penalty was unconstitutional. At the time, the law said only seven of 12 jurors needed to recommend a death sentence.

The legislature passed a law to change that, requiring a unanimous jury decision for death. Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law earlier this week, which forced the state attorney in the Orlando area, Aramis Ayala, to act.

“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 interest of this community or the best interest of justice,” she says.

Ayala, who represents one of the largest judicial circuits in Florida, said the death penalty is not a deterrent. She cited FBI research showing that the South accounts for 80 percent of executions but still has the highest murder rate.

Ayala also didn’t find any compelling evidence that the death penalty protects law enforcement.

She said the blanket decision to not pursue the death penalty includes the recent case of Markeith Loyd. He’s accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. The decision not to seek the death penalty in that case does not sit well with Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

“To put it bluntly, law enforcement officers throughout Florida are outraged over the decision that was made in this case,” he says. “I’ve also heard from many citizens who share the same feeling.”

Backlash from the state attorney’s decision quickly followed. State Attorney General Pam Bondi called the measure a “blanket neglect of duty.”

Gov. Scott asked for Ayala to recuse herself from the police shooting case. When she refused, the governor issued an executive order assigning it to another state attorney.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells says that while the state’s death penalty system might be broken, “it is the law,” he says.

“And when you have adopted a law, then it’s the function of everyone who has a role in it to make it work,” he says.

The special prosecutor who took over Loyd’s case Thursday said he has not made a decision whether he will seek a death sentence. A grand jury indicted Loyd on two counts of murder last month.

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Within SXSW, A Smaller, Latino Conference Has Something To Say About America

René Pérez Joglar, also known as Residente, performs onstage at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake.

Nicola Gell/Getty Images for SXSW

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Nicola Gell/Getty Images for SXSW

The annual South by Southwest conference is in full swing in Austin, Texas, where thousands of musicians go in hopes of making the right connections for their big break. The number of bands from Latin America and from Latino communities has increased so much that organizers have created a mini-conference within the larger festival. It’s called SXAmericas and Felix Contreras — the host of Alt-Latino, NPR Music’s weekly podcast about Latino arts and culture — spoke with NPR’s Audie Cornish about a trend he’s spotted there.

Audie Cornish: So this year, in terms of the music, what are we hearing from these Latin American artists?

Felix Contreras: In a word, resistance with a capital “R.” You know, ever since the election in November, there’s been a growing movement among artists of all stripes that’s been a reaction to the immigration policies of the new administration. Musicians in particular have been critical of the mass deportations — what immigration activists are referring to as the breaking up of families — and they have reacted through their music. Last night, the voter registration group Voto Latino sponsored a big concert here in Austin. It was an official South By Southwest show, but it was also free to the public and held in a very large outdoor facility known as Auditorium Shores, just south of downtown.

And that’s kind of a big deal — the fact that the public could attend this, right? Usually, you go to these showcases and you have to have a badge or you have to be some kind of industry person who’s paid all this money to be there.

They do have shows there once a night for folks who don’t have badges. And every year since they started doing SXAmericas, which has been a couple of years now, they’ve always had these large Latin concerts that bring in the population around Austin, which is largely Latino. Judging by the flags flown last night that I saw in the crowd, it was largely Mexican or Mexican-American, some of whom I’m sure were affected by the recent immigration raids here in Austin that were attracting headlines. They were incredibly enthusiastic about the themes of resistance in the anti-Trump messages shouted from the stage, and it felt really more like a rally than a concert.

I want to focus on one artist in particular who is huge: René Pérez Joglar. He goes by the stage name Residente, and he was part of one of the biggest Latin groups for a decade, Calle 13.

Calle 13 was a phenomenon in Latin music — there’s no other way to say it. Residente and his half-brother, who calls himself Visitante — they’ve won a total of 25 Grammys and Latin Grammys. That is unprecedented.

This artist grew up in Puerto Rico and his music, I guess, makes a lot of sense when you know that his dad was a labor lawyer and his mom was an actress.

Correct. I mean, they were definitely paying attention to what was going on in the island, and it was absorbed — all of the social conditions and the political situations — in their personalities and their musical vision. And so their music has often been considered stridently political, but I’ve always considered it more of a reinforcement of what we Latinos have in common: a language, a shared history. You know, it’s music that definitely brings people together.

To hear the band take on things like racism, income equality and violence in their home — not just in Puerto Rico but throughout Latin America and here in the US — Calle 13 is that rare example of intense, critical and popular success so far unmatched in anything that I’ve ever seen.

NPR producer Christina Cala caught up with Residente in Austin to talk about his latest project — a self-titled documentary and an album based on his DNA. Hear their conversation in the full version of this story, at the audio link.

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Episode 759: What's It Worth To You?

What's a $1 trillion, $10 million or $4.66 worth to you?

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Hiding inside each price tag is a messy tangle of information. How much did this cost to make? How much will someone pay to have it? What else can they buy with that money? What did it cost last year?

We bring you three stories untangling a price tag, three stories of setting a value on something when it isn’t so easy to slap on a price tag.

  • We try to figure out what $1 trillion means, because that’s what Donald Trump says he wants to spend on infrastructure. We’ll tell you what $1 trillion can buy, and two caveats about Trump’s plan.
  • We pause to appreciate the dollar value of an Oxford comma, which may just be worth $10 million in a lawsuit about overtime.
  • And we venture into tooth fairy economics. The amount left under kids’ pillows is an overlooked economic indicator. We bring you the hard numbers, and the story of when a meeting of the White House economics team helped settle on the right price per tooth.

Music: “Checkerboard Kicks,” “Everyday A Mistake,” “Searching For Clues,” and “Everything’s Big.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on iTunes or PocketCast.

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Travel Ban Legal Battles Continue, As Administration Appeals New Injunction

The Trump administration is appealing a federal judge’s decision to temporarily block the president’s second travel ban from going into effect — setting up another legal showdown in an appeals court.

The first version of the ban, temporarily suspending the U.S. refugee program and barring entry into the U.S. from residents of seven majority-Muslim countries, was quickly blocked by a federal judge in Washington state. The Justice Department appealed that temporary restraining order, but a panel of judges from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the suspension of the ban.

Then President Trump issued a new ban — one designed to address the legal concerns of the 9th Circuit, the administration says. It omitted Iraq from the list of barred countries, removed references to religion and excluded green card holders and people who already had visas, among other changes.

That new executive order was also swiftly challenged in court. Earlier this week, two federal judges in separate courts blocked portions of the ban — a judge in Hawaii imposed a temporary restraining order, and a judge in Maryland granted a narrower, but potentially longer-lasting, preliminary injunction.

It’s the Maryland injunction that the Trump administration is moving to appeal, asking the 4th Circuit Court to intervene.

Omar Jadwat, the director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the Maryland case, says the ban has “fared miserably in the courts.”

“We look forward to defending this careful and well-reasoned decision in the appeals court,” he says, referring to Judge Theodore Chuang’s decision to grant the preliminary injunction.

The Trump administration had signaled on Thursday that it planned to appeal Chuang’s decision; Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration would seek clarification on the Hawaii ruling before appealing that case.

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