Aramis Ayala, who probably 90 percent of Florida had never heard of before March, may wind up as one of the 2017 legislative session's most prominent figures. Indirectly, anyway.
At 12:30 p.m. Thursday the ‘Ride for Aramis,’ a several-hundred-strong rally of support for the Orange-Osceola state attorney, will culminate at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Organizers say buses are coming in from Pensacola, Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
Speakers during the rally are expected to include Florida civil rights activists, faith leaders, legislators, a murder victim’s family member, and a death row exonoree, among others.
Newly elected Ayala, first African-American to hold the position of state attorney in the Sunshine State, rose to prominence by publicly refusing to impose the death penalty in the case of two particularly cold-blooded murders.
In fact, refusing to impose the death penalty ever.
It's an odd position for a state attorney, to be sure. And one Gov. Rick Scott neither shares nor appreciates in a state that allows capital punishment. After Ayala refused to recuse herself, Scott replaced Ayala as prosecutor in the state's high-profile case against Markeith Loyd, accused of shooting to death his pregnant girlfriend and an off-duty police officer.
Scott seemed to take Ayala's refusal to back off the case as a personal effrontery.
During the first week of March the Legislature passed SB 280, which requires juries to vote unanimously in favor of a death sentence. Scott had only just signed the bill into law -- giving prosecutors across the state the green light to pursue new death cases -- when Ayala basically announced the law would never apply to her.
Now we have a state attorney -- not appointed by the governor but duly elected by the people of her district -- told by Gov. Rick Scott to stand down in the case.
And we have Orange County Judge Frederick Lauten denying Ayala's motion last week to be reinstated as the prosecutor in the Loyd murder case.
Ayala's critics say she never disclosed to voters that she was against capital punishment when she ran for election in 2016. But her supporters counter with -- well, nobody ever specifically asked her.
The point is, Ayala has said she won't step down, will appeal the judge's decision, and has a plan to go on as far as she needs to go.
That puts Scott where he doesn't much want to be. He's now uncomfortably in the middle of a kerfuffle with racial overtones and has an image problem he hadn't reckoned on as he goes into the 2018 U.S. Senate race.
On top of that, lawmakers are choosing sides -- mostly along party lines. Many say racial tension is higher than it's been for a while at the Capitol. And now here comes Thursday's rally -- unlikely to calm roiled waters.
Incidentally, sponsors of the ‘Ride for Aramis’ include the NAACP, Latino Justice, Florida Council of Churches, Orange County Black Voice, Let Your Voice Be Heard Orlando, Color of Change, the 8th Amendment Project, and Equal Justice USA.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith