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She Stood Her Ground. She Got 20 Years. The Case of Jacksonville’s Marissa Alexander.

| May 14, 2012

marissa alexander stand your ground

Marissa Alexander.

As Florida reviews its “stand your ground” law in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, Marissa Alexander on Friday received a 20-year sentence for firing a shot in what she claims was self-defense and her backers say was a case of her standing her ground.

Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, was sentenced in Jacksonville under a mandatory minimum law for firing one shot in the direction of a spouse with a record of domestic violence in a 2010 dispute.

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A judge had rejected Alexander’s “stand your ground” defense, saying she could have escaped instead of firing. Florida courts have often recognized a common law doctrine that says when someone is acting in self defense in their home, they don’t have a duty to retreat to first.

Alexander’s case has a twist from the usual “stand your ground” claim: she didn’t shoot her spouse. She fired, but didn’t hit him.

Her case has drawn immense attention, and gained even more notoriety than it likely otherwise could have as the state has been gripped by a new debate over self defense laws in the wake of the Martin shooting earlier this year.

“If we want to protect self-defense in Florida, we can’t have a 20-year mandatory minimum hanging over the heads of people who fire warning shots instead of just killing their attacker,” said Greg Newburn, Florida Project Director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Newburn will attend the first public hearing of the task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to review the “stand your ground” law on June 12 in Sanford, where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer. The acknowledged shooter, George Zimmerman, claimed self-defense, but is now facing second degree murder charges.

Angela Corey, the special prosecutor handling the Martin killing, will obviously fight any attempt to use the “stand your ground” defense in that case. And she said it doesn’t apply to Alexander, either. Her office had offered a plea bargain of three years, but Alexander rejected it, hoping to convince a jury she had been in fear for her life.

“She got two shots at her self-defense theory,” Corey told the Huffington Post on Thursday. “Neither a judge nor a jury bought it.”

“It’s a pattern we see all across the state,” Newburn said. “[Defendants] turn down a plea deal because they think they’re innocent…If you’re guilty and you know it, you take the plea.”

In Friday’s sentencing, Judge James Daniel said he had no choice under state law but to give Alexander the 20-year sentence.

“Under the state’s 10-20-life law, a conviction for aggravated assault where a firearm has been discharged carries a minimum and maximum sentence of 20 years without regarding to any extenuating or mitigating circumstances that may be present, such as those in this case,” he said.

Now Alexander’s options are few. She can appeal, which Newburn says she will do. And the governor and Cabinet can grant her clemency – that is, if one of the members of the clemency board can bring up her case, because Alexander herself can’t apply until she’s served ten years, or half her sentence.

In court Friday, Corey said Alexander’s shot could have hit her husband or his children. She told the Huffington Post that Alexander “was angry” when she fired the shot. “She was not in fear.”

That’s a distinction that Linda Osmundson, director of Community Action Stops Abuse, the domestic violence shelter in St. Petersburg, finds difficult to draw.

“The thing I see they’re hanging their hat on is that she was angry,” Osmundson said. “Well, wouldn’t you be angry if someone was beating you up?”

In the late 1980’s, Osmundson was instrumental in Florida’s establishing the possibility of executive clemency for battered women who kill their abusers. About 30 women went free over the next 15 years as a result.

“Most of the women killed their abusers in self-defense because they thought they were going to die, or their child was going to die,” Osmundson said. “But almost all those women got life sentences.”

The “stand your ground” law was passed in 2005.

Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray, 36, has been arrested twice for domestic battery, and Alexander had filed an injunction against him, which was active on the night that landed her in jail. She, too, has been charged with domestic battery, in an assault on Gray four months after the shooting. Alexander pleaded no contest to that charge after her trial in March and was sentenced to time served.

Newburn said domestic violence is a key factor in Alexander’s case.

“I think the background of abuse is relevant in terms of her state of mind when she fired the weapon,” he said. “There’s nothing mutually exclusive about anger and fear.”

Meanwhile, Corey and Alexander’s supporters continue to clash in the national media, which is now drawn to another Florida controversy over its “stand your ground” law. Alexander’s family has launched a petition drive and created a web page to solicit defense funds.

Her backers have also solicited help from the governor – noting that he got involved in the criminal case involving Zimmerman and Martin, so he could also intervene in the Alexander case.

Corey said Alexander’s family and attorneys are spreading “misinformation” about her having been a victim who acted in self-defense.

“If there was a way to prosecute [Alexander’s family] for what they are doing I would,” Corey said.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville Congresswoman Corrine Brown is calling Alexander’s case a product of “institutional racism.” She said she cannot locate a “stand your ground case” in her area where an African American has been the beneficiary of the law. Alexander is a black woman.

Brown will be calling for a national study by the U.S. Department of Justice or another entity to determine whether there are racial disparities in the application of the “stand your ground” defense.

And domestic violence advocates like Osmundson say the criminal justice system is biased against women who fight back.

“It’s not feminine for women to defend themselves,” she said. “In the minds of most people, women ought to be protected, not protect themselves.”

“Ms. Alexander exhibited great courage and restraint in protecting herself while also not killing anyone,” said Rita Smith, director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Where is the justice for battered women in Florida?”

–Marge Menzel, News Service of Florida

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21 Responses for “She Stood Her Ground. She Got 20 Years. The Case of Jacksonville’s Marissa Alexander.”

  1. ric says:

    Zimmerman was walking away when the thug attacked him..

  2. Joanne says:

    If she “stood her ground” she would have shot at him…not a “warning” shot! If I am in fear for my life I am not firing a “warning shot”…sorry!

    • maggie says:

      It is exactly this kind of attitude that makes this country one of the least civilized in the western world.
      Kill,kill, kill -is that really the best you can come up with? Shame on this indecent law.

      • Clint says:

        Lets see how you feel about that after someone beats you so bad your crippled for the rest of your life.
        “Stand your Ground” law is needed and will continue to be needed as this country falls further into depression and dismay .

  3. Jim N says:

    There are many details left out of this story.
    #1 Defendant Marissa Alexander had not been living in the home where this occurred for 2 months prior. She came to that house that night, stayed the night alone, and the husband and other children came home the following morning.
    #2 Although it is apparent in the court records that this was a bad situation long before this event, nothing had ever been done to curb either her or the husbands violent tendencies.
    #3 She fired an apparent “Warning Shot” to make the husband either leave, or not commit any further violence to her, however before firing this shot, took no steps to leave or deescalate the situation on her own.

    I feel the sentence is too long for the crime. What she did was obviously wrong, however to do 20 years for it is just as wrong if not even cruel and inhumane. This is a prime example of where minimum sentencing guidelines can be so harmful.

    The defendant in refusing to accept a plea deal, gives the impression that what she did this day, in her own mind is acceptable behavior, IT IS NOT. This is not how people that disagree about something act. This is not about self defense, although at the time due to the husbands previous actions, there is certainly concern on her part, with plenty of valid reason, this was more about “I’ll show you” than anything else. It shows just how bad society can degenerate. This story has been well documented and discussed for over a month @ Crackercoast.

    There is supporting court documentation from both sides. There are the court reporter transcripts of interview available. The lawmakers like Corrine Brown jumping on this and calling it institutional racism is yet again a fine example of “Race Baiting”. This case is all about behavior, Very Poor role models on both sides of the argument. It has absolutely nothing to do with what race either party is. There should be a punishment for people advancing “FALSE” agenda’s for their own self gain.

    • w.ryan says:

      Jim-you state the case against her and that she wasn’t residing in the place of occurrence. Regardless, she was still married to him and she had an order of protection against him. Did he let her in the residence? Was he present at the time of her arrival? What was his responsibility in all of this? Her story is that he beat and choked her. He continued to attack and physically abuse her. Shouldn’t he have done what you wanted her to do? His command of the situation was dominant. This IS institutional Racism. The best way to prove it is to compare other stand your ground cases. Obviously what she should have done according to you Zimmerman had opportunity to do but didn’t. Her story is different than what you’ve posted. The Husband also confirms and corroborates her story. With his three domestic abuse arrests that she declined to prosecute. He admitted his intent to kill her that night.

  4. Profiler says:

    You failed to mention she went outside, got the gun and then came back inside. And they said she shot in the direction of his children also. The media, as usual, attempts to sensationalize and stir people up without providing them with all the facts.

  5. GoodFella says:

    Why not tell the whole story? She was in a heated argument with her husband, she left the house and went to an outside garage to get a handgun. She then went back into the house to confront her husband which was with the two young children and tried to shoot him. This is NOT a stand your ground case. If she felt that she was in fear for her life she could have went to a neighbors house or simply left the area and call the police, she choose her path. She could have killed him or one of the kids in her fit of anger. She deserves to be locked up. And @Corrine Brown, get a life. Enough with the racism B.S. How many times are you going to pull the race card, we are so over it!!! It just shows your ignorance!

  6. sam8131 says:

    Ms Brown,

    Why is this racism? It’s and institutional screw up. A confluence of unintended consequences from laws passed without realizing all the possible consequences, rules passed tying justice’s hands, a person acting without fully thinking the situation through. Governemet cannot solve every problem. In fact if they try they will cause unintended consequences on other problems and probably make things worse for someone else because they can’t see all the possible consequences from what they are doing. In other words Ms Brown you are the problem and you make matters worse because you can’t get rid of that chip on your shoulder. Work for a solution and quit stiring up more problems.

  7. w.ryan says:

    Bravery of this abused woman to restrain from the killing of a human being(her abuser) but standing her ground is to be praised not punished. Equal justice under the law is very much in doubt. Ric…we’ve had enough discussion as to who is the aggressor in the case against Zimmerman. Finally we can let a jury decide. Let’s hope the jury doesn’t have twelve Ric’s or Joanne’s to make a decision.

  8. Don't forget says:

    FL….please remove the comment from “Zimmerman is the Devil” ….. It shouldn’t have been allowed on here in the first place. It has no insight or intellectual value and needs to be reviewed. Need a say more?

    [Absolutely right. That one slipped by. It’s been removed for the reasons you cited, and thank you for pointing it out.–FL]

  9. w.ryan says:

    Hasn’t she been abused by the Husband and didn’t she in essence stand her ground? This case has been bungled from the onset. The Husband stated that he would have killed her if not for the gun. He attempted to harm her and discharged the weapon.

  10. Outsider says:

    Once again you ignore the law and try to advance an agenda. The so-called stand you ground law specifically denies prosecutorial immunity when you shoot a person who has a right to be in the dwelling, vehicle, etc. They put this exception in the law to prevent people from shooting their spouses/ significant others and then claiming self defense. It seems other circumstances have been omitted to bolster your case. Keep firing in the dark though, eventually you’ll hit something.

  11. Liana G says:

    …”And domestic violence advocates like Osmundson say the criminal justice system is biased against women who fight back.”

    A universal truth. Not just here in the US.

  12. David says:

    If she was threatened she would have never gone back into the house to get her car keys.

  13. Barb says:

    I will just repeat what I posted on Cracker Coast:

    The most revealing comment came from her: “After the hearing, Judge Elizabeth Senterfitt denied my motion, citing that I could have exited the house thru the master bedroom window, front door, and/or sliding glass back door. The law specifically states: No duty to retreat.”

    IF she knew the law specifically stated that when she was firing shots at her ex and his son….then she studied up on it. However….I really doubt she knew that. And I really doubt she wanted to retreat.

    Wish these self imposed victims would realize they take credibility from women who really need protection.

  14. The common law of the land allowed people to defend themselves and others with lethal force if necessary. As a result of some powerful lobbying by the NRA that delicate balance changed. Changing the law was like tinkering with DNA. It is taking years to grasp the fall out which is resulting from the changes. In the last five years self defense related deaths have tripled. What necessitated this? The NRA and Second amendment promoters pushed laws like this one through the legislature. I was not in the legislature when it passed there, but ask you to imagine the political fallout which would occur if you were in office, or running from office, and refused to support the stand your ground law?
    Come on guys!!! Don’t let the NRA bully you into passing laws like this!

    • Matthew says:

      Everyone under the 2nd Amendment has a right to bear arms. Do you know why self-defense related deaths have increased? Because people are tired of being beaten, assaulted and raped. They have stated collectively that they will not take it anymore, no matter the race, the creed, the religion it doesnt matter. You blame the NRA, but the real truth of the matter is that people kill people not guns and many do so for a variety of reasons. Some of them do shoot their abusers and have been abused their entire lives. They should be given medals not prison time. In Alexander’s case she had the option to flee, she chose not to. She fired a weapon into an area where children were present. I do not care how abused you are, if you are threatened have the opportunity to run then do so, you do not go outside and get a gun and come back and shoot it at children. They had nothing to do with her abuse!!! Period, there is NO excuse for endagering those kids, no matter whose kids that they are.
      You whine about it being a race issue, its not, you whine about it being the NRA’s fault, you whine about it being the stand your ground law, you whine about it not being there when it was passed, but lets face the truth… Alexander made the decision to return with a gun and fire a shot at him while he was standing there with his kids. Plain and simple. She then returned four months later in violation of the court’s orders ans assaulted him. This is why she was convicted, it was not because she was african-american it was because she showed a blatant disregard for the law. She showed that in fact, she was not afraid of him, but rather that she was out for revenge. It is pretty cut and dry.
      And before anyone else brings it up, I have been involved in other situations of abuse of all different varieties of races, creeds and religious beliefs, so do not even try to throw that dogmatic tripe of thise case being a racial issue. Its not.

  15. palmcoaster says:

    @ Phil Chanfrau. We are so fortunate to have you in our community. Thank you for all your legal, knowledgeable and common sense inputs.
    I personally think that the lady tried, was bias and unfairly treated by the wrong interpretation of the law.

  16. Liana G says:

    This is a statement made by a male prosecutor in England on their state of affairs concerning crimes against women by men.

    …”This is a gender issue. It is about men and their attitudes to women: men thinking they can control women in any way they want. Men determining what is feminine, what is womanly … that somehow they can be manipulated and controlled,” he added.”…

  17. MannyHM says:

    It’s a gun that saved her life at that very moment.

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