Marissa Alexander is, at the time of this writing, recently out on bond awaiting a new trial. This is a relief for those who have watched her case, as until her conviction was overturned, she was serving a minimum twenty-year prison sentence. Her crime was to fire a warning shot that injured no one in an attempt to scare off her estranged abusive husband. This was in Florida, a state whose "stand your ground" laws have been made famous recently -- but at her first trial, Marissa Alexander was not permitted to use that defense. Which may be why she received a twenty-year prison sentence for a 'crime' which hurt no one.

Marissa's estranged husband, Rico Gray, has admitted to having abused all five of the mothers of his children; in 2009, he shoved Marissa into a bathtub, injuring her so badly she had to be hospitalized. He was arrested for this, and had a prior arrest for abusing another woman. Marissa had no prior criminal record; indeed, some might view a woman who was badly beaten by her husband as a victim. But apparently their number does not include Angela Corey, the Florida prosecutor perhaps most famous for her reluctant and (deliberately?) incompetent prosecution of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed an unarmed teen, Trayvon Martin.

Use a gun and you're done

Florida has a statute called the "10-20-Life" law -- pull a gun, and there's a 10-year mandatory minimum. Fire a gun and it's 20 years. Shoot someone, and it's 25 to life. The slogan is "Use a gun and you're done". A judge has little to no discretion in sentencing someone convicted under the law, due to mandatory minimum sentences; a prosecutor, however, retains the discretion whether to charge someone for a crime or not. In fact, that's why Marissa was sentenced to twenty years -- she rejected a plea deal to a lesser charge that would have meant a mandatory three year sentence, because she rightfully shouldn't have faced prison time at all. The prosecution retaliated by bringing this unreasonable charge against her.

Rico Gray delivered a verbal death threat, leading Marissa to retrieve her (registered and licensed) gun; She shot at the ceiling, and he fled the scene, claiming she'd shot at him and his sons. He later gave a sworn statement that he had threatened her life and was so enraged that he didn't know what he would do. That's quite believable; he had a long track record of seriously injuring Marissa, including an incident in which he strangled her to the point where she had difficulty swallowing and lost weight as a result. The death threat he delivered on the day she committed the 'crime' for which she faces trial was not the only such incident -- in fact, it was a fairly routine thing for him. Relatives have recounted examples of threats and the visible injuries Marissa suffered at his hands.

The second trial

Marissa was granted a new trial when an appeals court found that the judge during her first trial gave the jury illegal instructions, which essentially shifted the burden of proof onto her, requiring her to demonstrate that she was about to be attacked. The prosecutor, Angela Corey, apparently had no problem with this. The jury, operating under these illegal and erroneous instructions, voted to convict in just twelve minutes.

When the appellate court threw out the first verdict, Angela Corey had the discretion not to bring charges against Marissa Alexander again; I am among the thousands who wrote to her pleading with her not to. She brought new charges anyway; Corey has a reputation as a strong defender of victims, but clearly this only applies to certain victims.

The strange results of our justice system

I doubt many people reading this will be shocked to hear that the WHO recently released a study indicating that over a third of women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetimes, or that the great majority of that violence is perpetrated by intimate male partners. Statistics like this have become positively banal; what is more shocking is that the average prison sentence for men who kill female partners is 2 to 6 years, while women who kill male partners face an average of 15 years. This despite the fact that as many as 90% of women in prison for killing men had been subjected to violence by those men. And an estimated 2000 women in the United States are serving prison time for crimes committed in defense of their lives against their partners.

"The gun was never actually pointed at me"

Marissa has a three-year-old son, whom she has barely seen, since she has been in prison for most of the past three years. She's with him now, after being released on bail just prior to Thanksgiving; we can only hope that she and her family will not be denied further time together after the new trial.

Rico may have discovered the capacity for remorse. He himself said, "I honestly think [Marissa] just didn't want me to put my hands on her anymore, so she did what she feel like she have to do to make sure she wouldn't get hurt, you know. ... The gun was never actually pointed at me." Astonishingly, that fact was not enough to protect her from retribution from the justice system.

This case hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. There are Facebook groups expressing support here and here and a Tumblr with excellent information and suggestions for getting involved here. Financial support can be given here (including a link to an IndieGoGo campaign which is probably the easiest way to give).

January, 2015

Marissa was released to house arrest for two years, considering time served, allowing her to work, attend school, and go to medical appointments. Apparently in the eyes of law enforcement, this is generous.

I just received an update from her legal defense fund:

"We wanted to let you know that, in a stunning abuse of power, Florida State Prosecutor Angela Corey announced that she aims to increase the prison sentence for Marissa Alexander from 20 to 60 years if Marissa is found guilty in the upcoming trial. Corey says she intends to seek three 20 year sentences for Alexander to be served consecutively rather than concurrently, tripling the mandatory minimum to 60 years."


Angela Corey's article at Wikipedia
The Melissa Harris-Perry Show
10-20-Life at Wikipedia
Taking Liberties: Why do we jail women who choose to live?
Clemency Manual - The Michigan Women's Justice and Clemency Project

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