Groups rally to support embattled prosecutor
Hundreds rally outside Capitol to back State Attorney Aramis Ayala
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Supporters of Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala rallied Thursday outside the Capitol, hoping to persuade state leaders to stop "bullying" her, as one supporter put it.
More than 100 people rode buses to Tallahassee from throughout the state to take part in the rally to back the embattled Ayala.
The Orlando prosecutor made national news this month when she publicly declared she would not pursue the death penalty for alleged double murderer Markeith Loyd --- or in any other case.
On March 16, Gov. Rick Scott promptly reassigned the Loyd case to another state attorney. Last week, legislative budget writers moved to slash her office's funding to the tune of $1.3 million and 21 positions.
Ayala, who was elected last year as state attorney in Orange and Osceola counties, has called the potential cuts "political posturing" designed to punish her for a disagreement over policy, a sentiment her supporters echoed Thursday.
"[Ayala] wasn't afraid to speak the truth about how broken the death penalty is," said Christine Henderson, an organizer for Equal Justice USA. "And what does she get in return? Florida's governor overstepping his authority by trying to put her in her place, trying to take away the power that the people gave to her to fulfill."
But back in Orlando, critics of the state attorney --- led by former law enforcement officials and the families of murder victims --- scheduled their own rally demanding Ayala to be removed from office entirely.
Also, Orange County Circuit Judge Frederick Lauten this week refused to reinstate Ayala as prosecutor in the Loyd case, after Scott reassigned it to Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King, an outspoken proponent of the death penalty. Loyd is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and murdering Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton.
Rep. Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican whose district includes part of Orange County, has been an outspoken critic of Ayala and continued calling Thursday for further action against the prosecutor.
“The Capitol is a place for free speech. They can come here and bring their concerns forward," Cortes said. "I still insist on what I've said from the beginning, which is that the governor reassign all of these cases and then suspend the state attorney because of the blanket statement of refusal to handle any death penalty cases.”
The NAACP and groups such as Latino Justice, the Florida Council of Churches, Orange County Black Voice, Color of Change, The 8th Amendment Project, and Equal Justice USA helped organize the rally.
News Service of Florida