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Appeal Court Orders New Trial for Marissa Alexander, But No Redo on Stand Your Ground

| September 26, 2013

Marissa Alexander will remain in jail in Duval County through the end of her new trial.

Marissa Alexander will remain in jail in Duval County through the end of her new trial.

A unanimous three-judge ruling of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial for Marissa Alexander, the 32-year-old black Jacksonville woman whose 20-year prison sentence contrasted radically with George Zimmerman’s acquittal in a case that hinged on similar claims of self-defense. But Alexander will remain in jail, without bond, through the end of the new trial.

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Writing for the majority, Judge Robert Benton ruled that while the trial court was not in error when it declined to grant Alexander immunity from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, the court’s instructions to the jury about self-defense were a “fundamental error,” necessitating a new trial.

The shooting took place on Aug. 2, 2010. Alexander had pulled a restraining order against her then-husband, Rico Gray, with whom she’d had a baby less than two weeks before. Alexander went to Gray’s house to get some clothes, thinking he was not there. He was. They argued. Gray accused her of cheating and questioned the paternity of the new baby. Alexander locked herself in the bathroom. Gray broke through the door, grabbed her by the neck, and demanded to know when she’d last had sex with her ex-husband.

“She tried to push past him but he shoved her hard into the bathroom door,” the court’s narrative of the events read. “After struggling for what felt like an “eternity,” she testified, he relented and she ran from the bathroom straight to the garage.

Once inside the garage, Alexander testified, “she tried to leave the premises altogether but could not get the garage door open, and instead retrieved a gun (for which she had a permit) from the glove compartment of a vehicle in the garage. She then walked back into the house, she said, holding the gun by her side because she did not know whether Mr. Gray had left or not. As she walked into the kitchen, Mr. Gray saw the gun, and charged her ‘in a rage,’ saying, ‘Bitch, I’ll kill you.’ Startled, she raised the gun into the air and fired. Mr. Gray ran.” Alexander testified that she was forced to fire into the air as a warning shot because it was the “lesser of two evils.”

The shot was the culmination of a year and a half of abuse at her husband’s hands, Alexander testified. He had attempted to choke her and strangle her, once causing her to almost lose consciousness, shoved her repeatedly and violently on another occasion, causing injuries that sent her to the hospital—and causing Gray to be arrested. Five months into her pregnancy, Gray head-butted her twice, tore her clothes, threw her to the ground and threatened to kill her, as he had previously.

Several witnesses, including Alexander’s daughter, younger sister, mother and ex-husband all testified they had seen her injuries. Two of Gray’s sisters-in-law also testified that he had a reputation for violence in the community. The final defense witness, Mia Wilson, a psychologist, testified that the appellant met the criteria for “battered person’s syndrome.”

The prosecution was led by State Attorney Angela Corey, the same prosecutor who led—and lost—the state’s case against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Corey’s office issued a statement after the appeal court’s ruling, downplaying the judgment as “a technicality,” and emphasizing the court’s more minor finding that stand your ground is not an issue. Alexander will not have a stand your ground hearing, but that doesn’t mean that the new trial won’t recast the whole matter in a different light.

“By including the phrase ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ when giving the instruction on the aggravated battery prong of the self-defense instruction,” the court ruled, “the trial court improperly transmuted the prosecution’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt into a burden on [Alexander] to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, depriving her of a trial under the correct rule.”

In other words, the jury instructions resulted in something close to Alexander having to be proven innocent, fundamentally reversing the burden of proof against her.

In a separate but concurring opinion, Judge T. Kent Wetherell noted that the facts of the case as summarized by the majority were written in a light most favorable to Alexander, though the jury had heard testimony that painted Alexander as the aggressor. “It was the prerogative of the jury to determine which version of events to believe and, by its verdict, it appears that the jury rejected Appellant’s version of events,” the judge wrote. The same will be true in a new trial, he concluded.

The ruling was nevertheless a victory for women’s rights groups and the Jacksonville NAACP, which had been clamoring for a retrial since May 2012, when Alexander was sentenced. In August, the Florida Cabinet declined to pardon Alexander, citing the pending appeal.

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7 Responses for “Appeal Court Orders New Trial for Marissa Alexander, But No Redo on Stand Your Ground”

  1. brian says:

    if the case as stated above is true, she should be a free woman..

  2. Gia says:

    In her case of abuses she had the right to kill the sonofabitch.

  3. confidential says:

    Maybe justice will prevail now indeed shamefully late after this woman spent 3 years in jail and whatever time will take to get her day in court again.
    I remember here in Florida about 15 years ago, a case of an honest lady on her early fifties that worked all her life in then Bell South and saved from her good revenue to pay for her residence and a small vacation condo water front in Daytona Beach. Then she had the fate to fall in love and marry a user one of those sugar momma searchers, that as soon had his name on her properties, as he had none, started his infidelities and spousal physical beatings. She try for both to get counsel as it didn’t work for him and the beatings came on often, then she divorced him. He got his loot from whatever were only her savings and properties, but that was not enough for him, so he will stalk her and pursue her for money as she moved often to avoid him. She even had a restraining order on him. Nothing stopped him. Afraid, she bought a hand gun to protect herself as the law didn’t offer it. One more time violating the restraining order he broke in in her apartment by busting the sliding back door and demanding money, as she denied it he started punching her again. She try to stop him by using her gun that went off in the struggle wounding his leg…not life threatening but enough to stop him from killing her. Guess what ..? she was taken in hand cuffs, tried and found guilty (no stand your ground here) and she was given 15 years with chance for parole for good behavior, as she had no criminal record, neither a driving violation.
    The male chauvinist judge treated her like a creature of a Lesser God just for being a woman, a white one. She was released on parole for good behavior after 6 years. Her blond hair turned white and her once bright blue eyes, saddened by prison blues. I happened to meet this lady because in my resume presented while running for and HOA board, where she owned her condo, I had listed my volunteer work in the local Safe House that also helped and still does, victims of domestic violence. She sent me a letter from prison that worried me on arrival given the return address in the envelope. Given her life tragedy she said she liked my experience and compassion and was voting for me. We became pen pals while she served the six years and I met her briefly in person after her release. She sold her condo as told me she wanted to banish for her personal safety still concerned about her ex. I wished her safe and happy trails. My advise is for women in Florida at least, watch your steps because good chances are that if you make a mistake and land in court you may encounter the same type of judge with a peculiar way to interpret the law for women… as done to these ladies.

  4. Charles Gardner says:

    Wonder why Angela Corey is prosecuting these cases? Is she the states star self defense prosecutor? Her record isn’t looking very good right now.

  5. Sandra Reynolds says:

    This is the same prosecutor’s office that decided my niece’s murders only had to spend five years in prison.

  6. My heart goes out to this young woman and how sad that her children do not have their mother during the most impressonable and formative years of their innocent lives. Shame on this prosecutor – isn’t there a review commission like the JQC for judges? If not about time Florida implement one. I pray she and her children soon see justice

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