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Cabinet Passes, for Now, on Pardoning Marissa Alexander, Pending Stand Your Ground Appeal

| August 7, 2013

Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she termed a warning shot at her abusive husband, and not allowed to use the stand your ground defense.

Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she termed a warning shot at her abusive husband, and not allowed to use the stand your ground defense.

Members of the Florida Cabinet said Tuesday it’s too soon to consider a pardon for Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a shot into a wall during a domestic dispute.

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But an appeals court will decide whether Alexander should have been able to use a “stand your ground” defense to fight the charge.

Alexander, a 32-year-old mother of three, was sentenced last year under Florida’s “10-20-Life” mandatory-minimum law. (She was prosecuted by State Attorney Angela Corey, whom Gov. Rick Scott picked to prosecute the Gorge Zimmerman case. Corey offered Alexander a three-year prison sentence in a plea bargain, which Alexander turned down. The prosecution’s version of events is posted here.)

Alexander argued that the “stand your ground” self-defense law should apply, but a judge ruled against her because she ran to the garage for her gun and returned with it instead of escaping. A jury later found her guilty — in 12 minutes — of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

According to filings at the 1st District of Appeal in Tallahassee, Alexander’s attorneys contend that the trial court erred in denying Alexander’s pretrial motion for immunity based on “stand your ground.” They wrote that due to the history of domestic violence in the relationship with her husband, Rico Gray, Alexander had reason to fear bodily harm and had no duty to retreat.

They also argued that the trial court’s instruction to the jury “erroneously shifted the burden of proof, requiring that Alexander prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was in danger of imminent harm in order to invoke self-defense,” according to the motion filed last November.

Alexander’s case drew enormous attention when she was sentenced in May 2012. It returned to the spotlight last month, when a Sanford jury acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman did not use a “stand your ground” defense, but the case has sparked widespread debate about the law. Approved in 2005, the law says a person who is not doing anything illegal and gets attacked “has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.”

Alexander’s case also has become part of a sit-in at the state Capitol, where a group called the Dream Defenders has occupied Gov. Rick Scott’s waiting area, demanding a special legislative session on the “stand your ground” law. Tuesday marked the third week of the sit-in.

Members of the Dream Defenders have followed Alexander’s case, and their political director, Ciara Taylor of Jacksonville, was in court when Alexander was sentenced.

One good thing to come out of the verdict, Taylor said Tuesday, is the need to explore cases like Alexander’s — “cases involving the black-and-white … disparity within using ‘stand your ground.’ ” She also said it’s important “to talk about domestic violence against women in this country.”

On Monday, state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, wrote to Scott and the Cabinet, asking them to pardon Alexander when they next sit as the clemency board. Bullard noted that Alexander had reason to fear because her husband had battered her in the past.


Scott and Cabinet members could take up Bullard’s call for a pardon for Alexander on Sept. 25, when the clemency board meets. But on Tuesday, they were noncommittal. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi said that because Bondi’s office is representing the prosecution in Alexander’s criminal appeal, “it would not be appropriate to discuss clemency-related matters until the court has made a determination regarding the disposition of the criminal appeal.”

The appeal is also based on what Alexander’s attorneys argue are two additional errors by the trial court: denying her the right to consult her attorney during the single overnight recess of her two-day trial, and giving the standard jury instruction on the use of force.

“The instruction given effectively negated Alexander’s sole defense — that is, self-defense — by erroneously stating that an injury to the victim was a prerequisite to successfully invoking self-defense,” the motion said.

“She had every right to be afraid and every right to defend herself,” said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It is often the case that when a battered woman fights back and protects herself, the full force of the law comes down on her.”

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

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27 Responses for “Cabinet Passes, for Now, on Pardoning Marissa Alexander, Pending Stand Your Ground Appeal”

  1. A.S.F. says:

    I guess “Stand Your Ground” in Florida should only apply to White males.

    • The Geode says:

      Everything is NOT racism. The same way it irks me to think that most commenters here is oblivious to the problems of race in this Country, I find equally as bothersome that EVERYTHING has to be Black and White. This woman HAD an escape. This woman CHOSE to lay up with this dude who was a KNOWN and admitted “woman-beater”. She went to fetch a gun. IF she had it on her and killed him while he was beating her – the story would have had a different outcome. (sounds familiar?)
      BTW @Mike. There were TWO kids standing next to the guy when she shot in his direction. There goes your “dead man tell no tales theory”.

      • Anita says:

        Doesn’t “Stand Your Ground” law specifically refer to the fact that you don’t have to retreat? That you can legally stand your ground? Furthermore, it was my understanding that Ms. Alexander fired a warning shot into the ceiling. Under what chapter and section is “ceiling assault” deemed illegal in Florida Statutes? IF she had been his physical equal, she might have “killed” or otherwise stopped him from beating her, but she wasn’t, nor did killing seem to be her primary goal – just stopping him.

        • Janet G. says:

          And they’re not even giving her credit for having enough self-control NOT to kill the bum. If she had actually KILLED him – the maximum sentence she would have gotten would be 15 years. Then it would have been plea bargained down to 10 – then 5 years probation…and she would have been out of prison in 18 months. I know of what I speak. I’m a retiree out of the criminal justice system. It’s like they’re mad at her for NOT killing him!!!

      • Janet G. says:

        That still DOES NOT merit TWENTY DAMN YEARS, man! And she shot into the CEILING. WHY doesn’t she have the right to just plain SELF-DEFENSE??? What they’re also NOT TELLING YOU is that there is one Ana Alliegro who just late last year fired warning shots at her ex-husband TWICE…in Florida. She was not even a battered woman. The second time she fired the warning shot at him was because he “wouldn’t remarry her”! At her trial she showed no remorse. Her sentence…Five years probation – NO prison time. Mrs. Alliegro is White. As fast as Whites are to hollar, “Reverse Discrimination! Reverse Discrimination!” everytime they can find something similar…WHAT is keeping Mrs. Alexander from being given credence here too? She needs to be RELEASED…Yesterday

    • PC Mom says:

      Too bad he wasn’t white….

    • Ben Dover says:

      Zimmerman wasn t white , and didn t use Stand your Ground, the only white man I know that used it, is spending the rest of his life in jail , read the article and stop assuming anyone who isn` t black must be white, and for the umpteeth time Zimmerman didn t use Stand Your Ground. As far as Mrs Alexander goes , that was absolutely wrong for her to spend one minute in jail, and I`m hoping they release her and compensate her for the wrong they did , then they need to get a hold of her abusive ex husband and tattoo a big W/A on his fore head and any other chicken piece of garbage that goes around Abusing Women, if they are not going to lock these cowards up at least Brand them so the next woman he meets knows what he is and turns and runs before he fools her into thinking he is a man , instead of the insecure piece of crap he really is

    • N.C. says:

      Does anyone actually get the facts of this case? The woman (regardless of what color she is) walked out to her car, was never in any danger, got a gun, walked back inside and shot a gun in the direction of a man and two young boys. It’s that simple. The police found bullet holes in the WALL behind where he was…. Self defense is not even an issue in this stupid case. It’s just ridiculous media trying to feed the racist and uninformed masses.

  2. Mike says:

    I saw this case on either Dateline, or 20/20, what a shame that a warning shot gets you 20 years in prison, if she killed him then only her side would have been heard and she would more than likely be free. Domestic abuse is not seen as serious as it should be, one usually ends up dead before the courts locks up someone who deserves it, just my two cents.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Had i been on the jury i could not find her guilty BUT stand your ground was not used she went away then came back with the gun.

  4. Tabitha says:

    Being a woman who was in an abusive relationship and is still running from her ex (while waving around that useless paper called a protective order), I feel horrified and terrified. While I refuse to own a gun this could easily happen to any battered women that want to protect themselves while the law refuses to. My original protective order was issued in November 2007 and I still receive threats, visits, and calls from my ex. I have moved no less than 10 times in the last 2 years alone. Why hasn’t he been arrested? Because I cannot without a doubt prove it was him harassing me and not some random family member of his (who allow him to use their vehicles, phones, etc). Pathetic excuse for a ‘justice system’ if you ask me.

    • Ben Dover says:

      @ Tabitha , I feel very bad for you , a woman here in PC had a protective order in my old neighborhood , but he kept harassing her , cops said can `t do nothing till we catch him in the act , the day they were both due in court for divorce proceedings, he showed up at her house while she was getting in car chased her down the street into another neighbors house and killed her in their living room the home owner shot him and he ran out and died in the woods, the police need to take these nut jobs more serious give them stiff jail sentences , a lot of cops turn out to be abusers , they are on power trips want to control everyone around them and their cop friends stick up for them , its a disgrace, like I said above any man arrested more then once for domestic violence or even verbal abuse against his wife should be Branded , that way they can `t suck other women into their sick little worlds where degrading and abusing others weaker them themselves makes them feel like a big man when in actuality they are insecure little punks , don t you have a brother or father or uncle to deal with this guy?

      • Nancy N. says:

        “don t you have a brother or father or uncle to deal with this guy? ”

        Wow, paternalistic much? Get the men folk to take care of the little lady? This isn’t the 1800’s.

        If the police can’t get the guy to stop you really think that her male relatives getting in this guy’s face are going to have an effect? All that would do is escalate the struggle for power and control over her in his eyes, and probably wind up with people hurt or even dead.

  5. The Geode says:

    She was offered 3 years and turned it down. CLEARLY going to get a gun, bring it back AND firing it isn’t “self-defense” when the supposed threat was gone.

    • Anita says:

      Three years for what? Gun possession? Attempted self-defense? When she got her gun and brought it back where was her aggressor? If he was still there, still menacing, how do you figure the threat was gone?

      • The Geode says:

        Menacing with two kids beside him? Self defense when SHE had enough space to not only walk to the garage but walk back with a gun?(just as you stated) The ENTIRE relationship was violent on BOTH sides. Gun possession can get you 10 years alone. Firing it can get you 20. Didn’t you read the law or are you going to allow emotions to overlook the obvious? “Attempted self-defense?”

  6. RHWeir says:

    Doesn’t seem fair but the thing about guns is that once you shoot one, you can’t take the bullet back. It’s a very serious act, to fire a gun under those circumstances, but 20 years? If it was up to Judge Weir, or Judge Roy Bean, I think 5 years, suspend all but 30 days and probation for the remainder of the sentence with counseling. But, I don’t have a court so, hope she gets out soon.

  7. Freddy says:

    If you use stand your ground make sure the other person is dead. Your word against no one.

  8. Nancy N. says:

    If Alexander was white, male and rich, she never would have spent a day locked up.

    • Johnny Taxpayer says:

      How can you make that statement when this was the same SAO that prosecuted Zimmerman even when the evidence wasn’t there to support the charges? This SAO over charges everyone, regardless of color or sex. She needs to be impeached and disbarred.

  9. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    This travesty has more to do with mandatory minimum sentences than it does stand your ground. How many people, predominately women and black women, are sitting in prison because the Judge no longer has the discretion to sentence appropriately? The jury has no indication what the sentence will be when they decide whether or not someone is guilty, and I find it hard to believe that a jury would have found this lady guilty if they knew she would be sentenced to 20 years in prison. We need to allow Judges to sentence based on the facts of each case, not on a generic one size fits all standard that results in ridiculous sentences like this.

    • Ben Dover says:

      I agree, and I think its criminal that jurors aren`t told how many years manslaughter and other charges carry , how can they possibly make an informed decision, when they are kept in the dark about what they are sentencing people to, just another dirty cog in our broken justice machine, people that deserve life get out and commit more crimes , and people that don t belong in jail get 20 and 30 yrs, beaten , raped , killed cause they defended their selves, or had a few too many grams of pot , that is legal in other states, just pure bull crap

  10. Outsider says:

    Once again, all you race baiters and other legally ignorant people: the law was clearly followed and the resulting sentence was correct. Stand your ground does not apply in this case because the two involved were living together, so the shooting victim had a right to be in the home, and there was no injuction for protection in place. The children were not in danger, and she had no reason, other than stupidity and anger to go and get that gun and fire it. So, put your “Trayvon Martin” tee shirts away and go read Florida Statute 776.013 2(a) and (b) and tell me how right I am.

  11. jp says:

    Not a Trayvon Martin fan at all, but this Lady gets 20 years for firing a weapon in the air? Child rapist get less than that…What are they smoking in Jacksonville? Get that lady out of prison, and replace her with a real criminal!

  12. Geezer says:

    Poor lady got the shaft.
    Is this the world’s best legal system?
    Well yes! If you can afford the very best lawyers!

    Again, is this the best legal system?
    Yes, if you’re a lawyer!

  13. Liana G says:

    The gender curse. If Ms Alexander was a male she would have been given a free pass. Or, I wonder if she is being punished for NOT killing him?

    Apparently this is how the system operates (Back male killing Black male – no punishment. Black female NOT killing Black male – serious punishment) as is the case with Tyrone Pierson, a 17 year old Florida teenager who shot and killed 40 year old Julius Jacobs during a confrontation on July 5, 2013, won’t face homicide charges under ‘Stand Your Ground’.

    For the full story: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/08/07/2427201/prosecutors-wont-charge-teen-for-deadly-shot-under-stand-your-ground-even-though-he-illegally-possessed-the-gun/

  14. Phil McElrath says:

    Glad to actually see this phrase printed in the publication. I hope it was read by many.

    “Zimmerman did not use a “stand your ground” defense, but the case has sparked widespread debate about the law”.

    The law may be changing in cases like Ms. Alexander’s, if Rep. Neil Combee has his way. He proposes a bill legalizing “Brandishing” and “Warning Shots”, as an addendum to Florida’s, so called, “Stand Your Ground” law. Though if I understand correctly, SYG still may not have applied in her case.

    A randomly fired, un-aimed shot, is dangerous, and counter to proper handling and training. Brandishing is asking to get your head blown off.

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