Outside the Florida Capitol, more than 100 people bussed in from around the state gathered Thursday to show support for State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
Ayala, elected the top prosecutor in Orange and Osceola counties last November, is playing the starring role in the latest controversy over Florida's death penalty. On March 16, she said she would not seek the death penalty while in office.
That prompted a firestorm of criticism: Gov. Rick Scott reassigned a high-profile case to another state attorney; House Speaker Richard Corcoran called for Ayala to be suspended from office; House and Senate budget proposals call for more than $1 million to be cut from her budget.
But her supporters at Thursday's rally say she was acting within her rights.
"She wasn't afraid to speak the truth about how broken the death penalty is," said Christine Henderson, national organizer for Equal Justice USA. "And what does she get in return, y'all? Florida's governor overstepping his authority, trying to put her in her place, trying to take away the power that the people gave to her to fulfill."
Justice reform organizations including Equal Justice USA and Color Of Change bussed people to the capital from all over the state, including Tampa Bay and South Florida. They delivered petitions to the governor's office, as well.
Other speakers called out Scott and state lawmakers for attacking Ayala, the first black prosecutor elected in Florida, but not taking similar stands in cases of injustice, including the deaths of boys at the Dozier reform school.
"How is the governor so pissed off over charges against this one accused murderer, but this governor and phony Legislature refuse to open a real investigation into the murders and suspicious deaths of scores of boys buried in the state of Florida's death camp called Dozier School for Boys owned, run and operated by the Legislature of Florida?" said Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor.
One lawmaker who has been critical of Ayala made an appearance: Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, who led the push to defund parts of her office. He said he figured he should see what her supporters were saying.
He also said a proposal to cut 21 positions from Ayala's office would have no impact because there are currently 60 unfunded and unfilled jobs in her office.
Photo: Supporters of State Attorney Aramis Ayala gather at the state Capitol on Thursday. (Michael Auslen | Times/Herald)