In the wake of the shocking acquittal of George Zimmerman, the spotlight has been cast on the case of Marissa Alexander, who in 2012 was sentenced to 20 years in prison for shooting at a wall to scare her husband.
Zimmerman was fully acquitted of fatally shooting 17-year old Trayvon Martin, with the jury ruling that he had a legitimate concern for his life.
But 31-year-old Marissa had never been arrested for another crime, and the bullet she fired that day didn’t strike anybody.
Adding to the controversy, the judge rejected Alexander’s effort to invoke the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows a potential victim to use deadly force in self-defense without being required to retreat. She was ultimately found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, based in part on her husband’s testimony that she had intended to shoot him, but missed. The charges subjected her to a two-decade minimum jail sentence.
Alexander’s case — and the state’s “Stand Your Ground” statute — have received newfound scrutiny, following Zimmerman’s verdict. A flood of petitions have been submitted to MoveOn.org’s platform and elsewhere, calling for her release and noting the sentencing disparity and differing outcomes of Zimmerman and Alexander’s trial.
Alexander was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for firing a gun into a wall close to where her husband, Rico Gray, and stepsons were standing, after she and Gray had a dispute.
Kevin Cobbin, Alexander’s attorney, said his client was justified in firing her gun because Gray “had put his hands on her and there was a fight in the bathroom.”
“The judge decided not to make the call to grant ‘stand your ground,’ ” Cobbin said. “If it had been a white female, I believe she would have.”
While prosecutors in Alexander’s case have rejected that there are parallels between her case and Zimmerman’s, Alexander’s supporters have claimed that the judge’s refusal to allow a “Stand Your Ground” defense is proof of a racial bias at play in the law.
“The Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear messages today,” Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Fla.) said after Alexander’s conviction last year. “One is that if women who are victims of domestic violence try to protect themselves, the ‘Stand Your Ground Law’ will not apply to them. … The second message is that if you are black, the system will treat you differently.”
Angela Corey, the state attorney who prosecuted Alexander and oversaw the Zimmerman case, recently explained her disagreement to the Washington Post.
“[Alexander] put a round in the chamber, and she fired that shot out of anger, not fear,” Corey said, claiming that Corey’s husband and children had been on their way out of Alexander’s house. “She didn’t need to use that gun. Those kids were scared to death. They ran for their lives.”