In August of 2010, Marissa Alexander, a mother of three, including two 9-year-old twins, was in trouble. She had been repeatedly abused by her husband, including injuries that had put her in the hospital. Nine days after she had given birth to her third child, born six weeks premature and her daughter still in the NICU, Marissa went to the house one afternoon while her husband was gone in order to retrieve her belongings in an effort to leave. Her husband returned unexpectedly with her stepsons and began violently assaulting her while she was in the restroom. He proceeded to shove, strangle and hold her against her will – all while his 10 and 13-year-old sons watched in horror.
She was eventually able to free herself and ran to the garage where her car was parked. In the rush to flee, she left her keys and cell phone in the house. She tried to exit though the garage, but the door would not open. Terrified and realizing she would have to try to leave through the house, she grabbed her gun. The MBA graduate was a trained and licensed firearm owner and had a concealed carry permit from the state of Florida.
When she entered the kitchen, which was connected to the garage, her husband confronted her and said, “Bitch, I will kill you” as he charged toward her. She lifted her weapon and turned away as she fired her gun into the ceiling. He ran from the home.
Less than a year later, Alexander was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The case of Marissa Alexander has become a rallying cry for domestic abuse victims and opponents of Stand Your Ground laws. Historically, women – especially women of color — have been denied self-defense claims in cases of abuse. After fleeing the house, Alexander’s husband called the police and said he was attacked. When she told the officers her side of the story, and including that there was a protective order of past violence in effect against him, she was still arrested for discharging a firearm.
The prosecutor in her case is Angela Corey. She was also the prosecutor in the George Zimmerman trial, the man who shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, also under the auspices of self defense. Angela Corey lost that case and Zimmerman was set free. It was a rare loss for Corey, who has sent several people to jail in similar cases. Many of them black. During the trial, evidence was presented about the violent history of Alexander’s husband. In deposition testimony, he admitted to abusing four women in past relationships. He even acknowledged that he had attacked Alexander on that August afternoon, threatened her and was so enraged there was no telling what he would have done.
The jury deliberated only 12 minutes before finding her guilty.
Alexander was denied protection under the Stand Your Ground law. The judge said she could have left through another way and that she put her husband – who had threatened to kill her – as well as her two sons in danger. The judge ignored the fact that she was trying to leave and, more importantly, the law does not require that a person tries to leave when feeling threatened. As it was written, however, it did require that a person was shot.
In other words, you have to shoot to kill.
She was sentenced under another Florida law, Florida Statute 775.087. The so-called “10-20-Life” bill makes it a felony to brandish a firearm or fire a gun outside of the purpose of self-defense. Each offense carries a minimum sentence of ten years. If the shot hits someone, the defendant risks 25 years to life in prison. The jury didn’t believe that Alexander was acting in self defense because she was not harmed. Alexander’s conviction was overturned on appeal, with the appellate judge ruling that the jury was wrongly instructed on self-defense claims, including that injury had to occur.
Still, Angela Corey was not backing down.
When Alexander’s attorneys sought her release while she awaited the new trial, Corey fought the attempt. Alexander had been separated from her three children, including her newborn daughter, since her arrest. Two months after she was finally released under what amounted to house arrest in November 2013, Corey filed an erroneous motion to have her returned to jail. She claimed that Alexander had violated the conditions of her release when, in fact, Alexander’s movements to doctors appointments and other errands had been authorized by the court. Her motion was denied.
While she waits for her new trial, her expenses are mounting. Unable to work, she must still pay the $105 weekly cost of the electronic monitoring and the $1,000 a month bond cost. Several “Free Marissa Now” campaigns have been started nationwide, offering both emotional and financial support.
Her case prompted the state legislature to modify Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. People still have to comply with the other provisions of the law, which requires fear of bodily injury or death and be involved in lawful activity. However, it will now be legal to brandish a firearm and fire a shot in order to scare off an attacker. In March, while the legislature was debating the law, Angela Corey’s office sent a detailed memorandum outlining the prosecution’s case against Alexander. The letter was not requested by the legislature and was seen as an unethical attempt to thwart legislation that could possibly be beneficial to the defendant. Governor Rick Scott signed the modified law in June of this year.
However, it will not be applied retroactively and will be of no help to Marissa Alexander.
During the first trial, Corey’s office offered a plea deal of three years, which was rejected because she and her attorneys felt she should not serve time for self defense. More recently, Alexander’s request for a second Stand Your Ground hearing was denied. Her trial is currently scheduled for December.
Last month, a local group in Jacksonville, Florida started a campaign to remove Corey from office. Prosecutor Angela Corey has said she will now be seeking a sentence of 60 years, saying that the law requires that Alexander serve the 20 years for each count consecutively.
Photo credit: Justice for Marissa