Editor's Note: AC360's Gary Tuchman tells the story of Marissa Alexander, a woman who fired a gun in self-defense against her abusive husband. The case provides another example under which to examine Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law. Gary's producer, Chuck Hadad, wrote the companion text piece for CNN.com Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, pleaded for her freedom as an inmate in the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville, Florida. "This is my life I'm fighting for," she said while wiping away tears. She added, "If you do everything to get on the right side of the law, and it is a law that does not apply to you, where do you go from there?" Alexander is referring to Florida's so-called 'stand your ground' law, a law that has come under scrutiny since the killing of Trayvon Martin. Unlike the Martin case, which involved one stranger killing another, Alexander's case involved her gun and her abusive husband. On August 1, 2010, she said her husband, Rico Gray, read text messages on her phone that she had written to her ex-husband. She said Gray became enraged and accused her of being unfaithful. "That's when he strangled me. He put his hands around my neck," Alexander said. She managed to escape his grip but instead of running out the front door of their home, she ran into the garage, she said, to get into her truck and drive away. Alexander said that in the confusion of the fight, she forgot to get her keys and the garage door wouldn't open, so she made a fateful decision. "I knew I had to protect myself," she said, adding, "I could not fight him. He was 100 pounds more than me. I grabbed my weapon at that point." She went back inside the house and when Gray saw her pistol at her side, she said he threatened to kill her, so she raised the gun and fired one shot. "I believe when he threatened to kill me, that's what he was absolutely going to do. That's what he intended to do. Had I not discharged my weapon at that point, I would not be here."
Alexander, however, said she did not aim the gun at her husband. She said she fired into the air intending to scare him away and Gray quickly left the house with his two children. No one was hurt in the incident, but Alexander sits in jail facing a 20-year sentence on three charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Gray admitted to a history of physical abuse. In a previous incident, Alexander said he beat her so severely she ended up in the hospital and he ended up in jail. "He pushed me, choked me, pushed me so hard into the closet that I hit my head against the wall and passed out for a second," Alexander said.
In a deposition for the case against Alexander, Gray backed up much of his wife's story. "I told her if she ever cheated on me, I would kill her," he said during the proceeding led by a prosecutor for State Attorney Angela Corey's office and his wife's defense attorney.
"If my kids weren't there, I knew I probably would have tried to take the gun from her," Gray said, adding, "If my kids wouldn't have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her." When Alexander's defense attorney asked him what he meant by "put my hand on her," Gray replied, "probably hit her. I got five baby mammas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one."
Alexander's attorney filed a motion for dismissal under the stand your ground law but at that proceeding her husband changed his story. Gray said he lied during his deposition after conspiring with his wife in an effort to protect her. At the hearing, he denied threatening to kill his wife, adding, "I begged and pleaded for my life when she had the gun." The motion was denied by the judge.
Alexander was offered a plea deal by Corey's office, but she opted to go to trial. A jury found Alexander guilty in 12 minutes. She is baffled why invoking the stand your ground law wasn't successful in her case.
"Other defendants have used it. What's so different about my situation that it doesn't apply to me?" she asked.
The local NAACP believes race may have played a role.
"There's a double standard with stand your ground," said Isaiah Rumlin, president of the Jacksonville Chapter of the NAACP. "The law is applied differently between African-Americans and whites who are involved in these types of cases," he added.
Rumlin cited two shooting cases in Florida with white shooters: One had a successful stand your ground defense and the other has yet to be charged with a crime. Online blogs are also raising the question of race. Last week, a spokeswoman for the Rev. Al Sharpton confirmed he, too, was looking into Alexander's story. When asked about race as a factor in her case, Alexander declined to comment.
CNN requested an interview with Rico Gray for this story. He agreed but later declined through a family friend, saying he was concerned that speaking publicly would put his life in danger. On Sunday, he resumed contact with CNN, offering an interview to "anyone who would like to pay." Monetary compensation for an interview is against CNN policy.
Through a spokeswoman, State Attorney Angela Corey declined to comment on the case until after the sentencing. Alexander's attorney, Kevin M. Cobbin, is fighting for a new trial and that hearing is tentatively scheduled for next week. If that motion is denied, Alexander will receive a mandatory 20-year sentence with no possibility of parole.
Alexander Case Shows Need to Reform 10-20-Life Law
For Immediate Release
Date: April 24, 2012
Contact: Monica Pratt Raffanel, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) President Julie Stewart today called on Florida lawmakers to repeal the state’s “10-20-Life” automatic prison sentence for assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill. The call comes as Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, prepares to be sentenced for a 2010 incident in which she fired a gun into the ceiling of her house to persuade her abusive husband to leave.
“A lot of attention has been paid to Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and far too little to the state’s extreme, one-size-fits-all sentencing laws,” Ms. Stewart said. “Less than three years ago, Orville Lee Wollard, a lawful gun owner, fired a warning shot in his home to chase off a young man who had been abusing his teenage daughter. After Wollard rejected a plea deal and a jury rejected Wollard’s self-defense claim, a Florida judge was forced by the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing law for assault to send Wollard to prison for 20 years. Mr. Wollard’s judge stated that he thought the sentence was excessive, but said his hands were tied.
“In the coming weeks, Marissa Alexander, who was also found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, will likely be sentenced to the same 20-year mandatory minimum prison term. While reasonable people can disagree on whether Mr. Wollard or Ms. Alexander deserve any prison time for their conduct, no one can honestly believe that these were the types of cases the legislature had in mind when it passed the 10-20-Life automatic gun sentence,” Stewart said.
According to press reports and court records, Ms. Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray, abused her on more than one occasion before the incident that led to her conviction. Mr. Gray described one incident of abuse in a deposition, saying, “And the third incident (with Alexander) we was staying together and I pushed her back and she fell in the bathtub and hit her head and I-- you know, by the time I ran downstairs and got in my car to leave, you know, that's the time I went to jail, the police picked me up down the street.”
In that same deposition, Mr. Gray admitted that he threatened his wife’s safety on the day she fired the gun into the ceiling. He also admitted that Ms. Alexander never aimed her gun at him (or his two children who were also present). According to Mr. Gray, after she told him to leave her house and he refused, she discharged the gun into the ceiling and no one was hurt. He later called the police and told them what had happened. Ms. Alexander was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault (one count related to her husband, and two more for her stepsons). Ms. Alexander strongly maintains her innocence.
Greg Newburn, director of FAMM’s Florida project, said, “Based on everything we have heard to this point, we believe that sending Marissa Alexander to prison for 20 years would be a tremendous injustice and a colossal waste of Florida taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
“This is not an issue about race – it’s about individualized justice. Ms. Alexander is black, but Orville Lee Wollard is white. Rather, this is another, powerful example of how inflexible sentencing laws prevent courts from considering highly relevant circumstances, such as whether the offender is a hardened criminal or a first-time offender and whether someone was motivated by malice or genuine fear,” said Newburn.
For more information on Marissa Alexander’s case, see news articles in the Florida Times-Union, International Business Times, and Loop 21.
For more information on Orville Lee Wollard’s case, see his profile and an op-ed by Ms. Stewart that appeared in The Washington Times. For another case involving an excessive sentence imposed under the 10-20-life mandatory gun law, see FAMM’s profile of Erik Weyant.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A Jacksonville woman will have to wait to learn if she will be spending the next twenty years of her life behind bars.
Marissa Alexander was originally scheduled to be sentenced Monday morning. However, a judge delayed her sentencing.
Alexander will have a hearing April 30th for a judge to rule on post-trial motions. No new date has been set for her sentencing.
Marissa Alexander was convicted on three counts of aggravated assault after firing a warning shot at her ex-husband inside their home in 2010.
At the time, Alexander had already taken out a protective order against her ex-husband earlier that year when he was arrested for physically abusing her.
So when a fight started in their master bedroom, Alexander told police she feared for her life.
Alexander's attorney filed a Stand Your Ground motion before the trial, but the judge denied her immunity.
Alexander is looking at a mandatory sentence of 20 years.
In August 2010, Marissa Alexander found herself in what she believed was a life or death situation. While she was using the bathroom in her Jacksonville, Florida home, her husband allegedly attacked her. He assaulted her, shoving, strangling and holding her against her will, preventing her from fleeing, while she begged him for mercy. After a minute or two of trying to escape, she got free and went to the garage where her truck was parked, but realized that she didn’t have her keys. After her attempts to open the garage door failed, she grabbed her weapon, and went back inside her home, hoping to either leave through another exit or get her cell phone. But when she got to the kitchen, her husband approached and threatened her. Yelling “Bitch, I will kill you!” he charged toward her. Afraid and desperate, she lifted the weapon that was in her right hand, turned away and discharged a single shot up in the air, in the ceiling.
Alexander may have saved her life that day and no one was hurt when she fired the warning shot. But the incident could soon cost her up to 25 years in prison. After she fired her gun, her husband ran out of the home, contacted the police and reported that she shot at him and his sons. Police arrested her; prosecutors tried her — and though she claimed self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law — a jury convicted her of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm. She has been in jail for a year and is now waiting for a judge to issue her sentence. The prosecutor in her case? None other than special prosecutor Angela Corey, who is leading the prosecution of George Zimmerman, who claims he shot African-American teen Trayvon Martin in self-defense.
I have not vetted Alexander’s story and — while a local alternative weekly newspaper, the Folio Weekly, maybe investigating her story — it appears that no local media organizations have vetted it either. So there is no way to ascertain her husband’s name or his side of the story. But if there’s any merit to the account of events circulating around the Internet — through a letter she wrote with her previous husband and friend, Lincoln Alexander, and through an interview that her relatives gave on The Nancy Lockhart Show – someone has some explaining to do.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law allows victims to pull the trigger on aggressors when they “reasonably believe” doing so is necessary to stop the other person from hurting them. It obviates their duty to retreat. Yet the judge who heard Alexander’s case at an evidentiary hearing said she “could have exited the house thru the master bedroom window, front door, and/or sliding glass back door,” according to Alexander’s letter. And a jury somehow agreed that Alexander’s discharge of her firearm was not justifiable.
On the Nancy Lockhart Show, Lincoln Alexander said that the family plans to appeal his ex-wife’s case. They are also planning a press conference for 3 pm Wednesday.
As soon as I learn more details about the husband’s side of the story, I’ll report it.
Marissa Alexander Faces Jail Time Despite 'Stand Your Ground' in Florida
April 19, 2012 11:01 PM EDT2 people recommend this comments: 5
Marissa Alexander stood her ground against domestic violence, but she still faces jail time. The Trayvon Martin murder has brought Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law to the forefront over the past several months.
The woman did not even hurt anybody during the incident, and yet she still faces three counts of aggravated assault. Marissa Alexander is actually in jail right now, and she faces up to 20 years in prison, which is astonishing especially considering that George Zimmerman was not even arrested until weeks after shooting Trayvon Martin.
In 2010, Alexander fired a warning shot at her ex-husband inside her home to keep him from advancing on her. She had a protective order because he had abused her in the past, and that did not keep him from coming back and threatening harm. He was not hurt, and nobody else was either. It seems unbelievable that she has been jailed over something like this especially since the gun was registered to her, it was her own house, and nobody was injured.
Marissa Alexander's sister Helena Jenkins said, "She did what she had to do to live, and I believe if she didn't do that, my sister wouldn't be sitting in jail today, she would be sitting in a coffin."
Thank goodness she protected herself. She did not shoot this man, and it is unbelievable that she could spend two decades in jail over this. What do you think? Was this an example of "Stand Your Ground?" Also, should this law be reexamined given the recent issues with it?