It all began with a blog posted on April 3, 2012.

Marissa Alexander, 31, drifted into Black America’s consciousness, and the rest of the nation soon followed, as her horrific story of domestic violence began to unfold. When she was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for firing a single shot at her violent husband with his children in the home, her case exploded across the internet as people expressed disbelief and outrage.

Why?

Because she received a mandatory 20-year sentence — though no one was injured or killed — for trying to escape an abusive situation.

On August 1, 2010, with her premature infant fighting for her life in NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit), Alexander went to the home she had previously shared with her estranged husband Rico Gray — for reasons as yet to be disclosed – and a fight ensued over text messages she had sent to her ex-husband, Lincoln Alexander, reports CBS News.

Alexander wrote in her blog that she was assaulted, shoved, strangled, and held against her will by her husband as she begged him to let her leave. She was eventually able to escape, but upon making it to the garage, she found the door broken and realized that she had left her cell phone inside the home. Fearing for her life, she grabbed her gun, for which she had a permit, and returned to the house. At that point, Gray allegedly charged toward her screaming, “Bitch, I will kill you!” prompting Alexander to raise her weapon and fire into the ceiling.

That’s where details get sketchy.

Alexander’s legal counsel attempted to use the “Stand Your Ground” defense, the very same controversial law at the center of the Trayvon Martin case. Former neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, in an attempt to justify his vigilante-style murder of the 17-year-old said that he stood his ground and in the state of Florida that meant that he did not have a “duty to retreat under threat of death or serious injury.” Loud cries of racism and prejudice erupted when it was revealed that the judge in the case dismissed Alexander’s motion to receive immunity under the very same law and petitions circulated supporting her case. Rev. Al Sharpton and members of the NAACP also promised to get involved.

“We take issue with the State denying [Alexander’s] right to claim self-defense under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law,” said Isiah Rumlin, president of the Florida chapter of the NAACP. “[Alexander] did all that she possibly could to protect herself from her husband at the time, including an injunction for protection against violence, which was active on the day of the incident.”

In an exclusive interview with TheGrio.com, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey said not so fast.

“A person’s propensity for violence is only one factor that would have allowed her to use ‘Stand Your Ground’ at the moment when she fired,” Corey said of Alexander. “If that’s what you’re saying, she can walk into a room and just see him and shoot. And what does it say about her fear of Rico Gray that she disobeyed a sitting judge and went over to confront him four months after the incident — one that led Alexander to plead no contest to a domestic battery charge of her own.” In that case, Corey said, Gray called 911 again, after Alexander “gave him a black eye.”

“I just don’t understand where just the one-sided story has come out.”

Corey divulged other details as well; most importantly, that Alexander did not fire the weapon into the ceiling as she claimed, but into the wall behind Gray:

“[Gray] told his boys, ‘get your clothes, we’re out of here.’ And she and went in the garage and into the glove compartment, got out a gun, got it in a ‘ready to fire’ position — it’s a semiautomatic and it had the safety off, and she had a round in the chamber,” Corey said. “And she walked back into the kitchen and fired the gun at him. He was standing the living room and it went through the wall at about adult head height, and ricocheted off the roof or the wall. And thank God it didn’t hit one of the kids.”

Corey says that he sounded frightened on a 911 call and that “you can clearly hear the distress in [his] voice.” During the call, according to Corey, the estranged couple can be heard arguing when Gray says, “I’m outta here,” and Alexander responds, “I’ve got something for you.” Rico Gray, however, tells a somewhat different story. Alexander claims that she was the one afraid, and he supported that version in a deposition, reports CNN.com.

“I told her if she ever cheated on me, I would kill her,” he said during the proceedings led by a prosecutor for 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 mamas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one.”

The emotions surrounding this case are extremely complex. Black Americans are justifiably grappling for answers from a judicial system that historically convicts Black Americans at a higher rate than any other race or ethnic group. Women are also struggling with the fact that our domestic violence victims are often ignored until it’s too late. But with this evidence revealed by Corey smashing what we thought we knew about this case, the outrage has somewhat damped while many try to process the new information.

In attempt to get to the root of the matter and separate emotion from law, I contacted two attorneys to answer the tough question:

Based on the evidence revealed by Corey, is it possible that Marissa Alexander actually deserved to go to jail – even with a history of violence on her husband’s part?

 

Below you will read arguments for and against Marissa Alexander’s guilty verdict and the mandatory 20-year sentence from two criminal defense attorneys in the African-American community.

 

Attorney Kia Baldwin Richardson, who practices law in North Central Louisiana, believes that, based on the evidence, the verdict is still unjust and the differences between how Marissa and Zimmerman were treated are a testament to the inequality in our judicial system:

“First let me say that I have major respect for a jury being the trier of fact and after reading that they reached a verdict in 13 minutes that really peaked my interest because that means either the state had really good evidence or her defense attorneys were really bad. A quick verdict on such serious charges almost always means one or the other.”

Now considering the facts that I read in TheGrio.com article, and what I have heard over the last few weeks in news outlets, here are my thoughts:

1.) A woman who is EVER a victim of domestic abuse and subsequently obtains a restraining order is always the victim if the one whom the restraining order is against violates that order by coming to her home and starting an argument. The fact that Gray violated the restraining order is enough to place Alexander in fear and the fact that he began to argue with her out of jealousy over text messages only adds fuel to the fire. The fact that Corey tries to downplay this by saying “Gray was the victim on that day” and Gray didn’t endanger her “at that moment” is appalling. Alexander is always the victim if the restraining order is being violated and she has the right to protect herself. Corey even goes further to say that those who disagree with her on this point are basically saying Alexander can shoot Gray if she walks in a room and sees him. This is ridiculous. No one is saying Alexander has a right to shoot Gray on spot. Alexander can, however, take necessary steps to protect herself in her own home against a man who is illegally in her home and in an apparent jealous rage. Especially considering their history.

2.) The fact that Alexander has violated the restraining order in the past and that she has given Gray a black eye in the past does not lessen Alexander’s credibility when she claims fear of Gray. Anyone familiar with victims of domestic abuse is aware that it takes many women years to actually walk away from their abuser. This is due in part to the tremendous amount of mental control the abuser has over his victim. Many women return to the very person who is abusing them several times before walking away and some never get the opportunity to walk away.

3.) Corey’s claims that the fact that there were no signs of abuse are an indicator that Alexander was not endangered. Another ridiculous claim. She totally ignores the impact of mental control and mental abuse.

4.) Reasonable doubt should have allowed the jury to defer to Alexander’s claim about why she came back in the house after leaving and why she fired the shots. Reasonable doubt should be present here. Alexander gives a plausible explanation that, if coupled with their volatile history, should have acquitted her.

5.) Even if, for argument’s sake, Alexander is guilty, the 20 year sentence is excessive. It appears that the only criminal history Alexander has is the domestic abuse, battery charge. There is no reason why she should not have received a probated sentence. Her risk of harm or danger to the community and the need for punishment was not present here. Alexander is not a person that poses a threat to the community. It appears her contacts with the law have all been related to Gray and not the community at large (as is the case with burglars, robbers, sex offenders, etc.) so there is no issue of protecting the community. Nor is there a need to punish Gray for her actions. Even if she is guilty anyone can see she was reacting to a volatile situation that had been brewing between herself and Gray. Thus, what she would need is counseling and/or anger management or conflict resolution treatment NOT prison. And definitely not a lengthy prison sentence.

Again, I will restate that either there is a lot more evidence we don’t know about or Alexander’s attorneys were not prepared.

And forgive me for stating the obvious: That a black woman with clear, articulable and documented reasons for being afraid could not count on the “Stand Your Ground” law to justify her actions but a white [Latino] male who kills a young black male with no articulable reasons can somehow escape punishment for so long is beyond me.

 

Attorney Eric L. Welch Guster of Guster Law Firm in Birmingham, Alabama, sees the case completely differently. Not only does he believe that race is not a factor when comparing Zimmerman’s case to Marissa’s case, but he agrees with Corey’s analysis of the evidence:

1.) Mrs. Alexander went to the garage, retrieved the gun, and then returned to where her husband was. That shows aggression towards her husband. She stated that she feared for her life, but she did not flee at that point which leads us to

2.) She stated that the garage opener was not working and she went into the house to get her keys. Well, if the automatic garage door is not working, getting your keys wouldn’t be relevant because you cannot leave your garage if the door doesn’t open. Arguably, she could’ve driven the car through the garage door, but that is highly unlikely.

[Editor’s Note: Alexander stated that she re-entered the home to retrieve her phone and attempt to leave through another exit. She did not re-enter for her keys.]

3.) If she feared for her life as she stated, she would have exited the house at the earliest moments. She never stated that her husband had a gun or weapon, which means she could have gone inside the house and left out of the front door (If the garage door opener was not working like she stated.)

4.) I am not 100% agreeable with the claims that she may not have been abused that day. They have shown the photo of Mrs. Alexander to show no signs of physical abuse. Most abusers do not abuse where it is visible. Most abusers hit, punch and kick in places that are not noticeable to others, i.e., can be covered by clothing easily to hide the abuse.

Finally, with the information I have read I do not agree with the outrage over her prosecution. “Stand Your Ground,” along with other self-defense laws are designed for people in situations where they cannot get out except by eliminating the threat (person) that is of danger to them.

When she left, she already” left her ground” instead of “standing her ground.”

[Twenty] years seems excessive, but her not accepting the plea is part of criminal defense. You roll the dice sometimes. I have a client on trial now facing 10 years and he was offered a plea to 3 years. Oftentimes there are ridiculous mandatory minimums that include many different cases with similar circumstances.

WE must compare apples to apples — Zimmerman is a non-black accused of shooting a black [child]. Alexander, who is black, was found guilty of a crime against her black husband. They cannot be compared.

If Alexander was white and the husband was black, this would not be a story. If they didn’t prosecute the white wife for shooting at her black husband, there may be riots in the streets in reference to it.

Clearly this case is multifaceted and one that can be debated on a myriad of levels. But the fact remains that a 31-year-old mother of three is locked behind bars tonight. Her baby, who was a mere 9 days old at the time of the incident will be separated from her mother until she is 22-years-old. And Rico Gray, the man she feared, the man who threatened her life after having abused her many times before, the man who admitted that “I would have probably hit her” because “I’ve hit all my baby mamas except one” is free to abuse again.

Something is clearly wrong with this picture, but separating law from emotion is never easy.

 

Weigh in, Clutchettes: Based on the evidence and perspectives provided here, do you believe that Marissa Alexander should be in jail – or is this another example of a woman being shoved through the cracks of a system that’s supposed to keep her  safe?

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  • Shannon

    I’m confused – “Alexander went to the home she had previously shared with her estranged husband Rico Gray” does not make it clear whether he was supposed to be out of that house and she still lived there, or he was still living there and she had moved? Makes a huge difference to me if she sought him out versus he sought her out. Although, even if she sought him out, it can be argued in the Zimmerman case that Zimmerman pursued Martin when he should have just stayed put, so the question than becomes, I suppose, in a situation where both people demonstrate aggression- is the person who shoots the one who is factually in danger sufficient to justify the bullet defense.

  • Marissa is not guilty and here is my case for her:

    First, clarity on a point some people have raised about why she was at the house. The house was the marital home they both shared. Neither was living there at the time since Rico Gray’s last abusive incident of her that forced her to give premature birth 9 days earlier. She had gone to the house the night before to get clothes and slept there. Rico came there the following morning with his two children.

    The Case for Marissa

    On the merits, she’s not guilty. Point blank. The pre-trial judge flat out applied the law incorrectly to the facts. The ruling denying her motion for determination of immunity from prosecution and motion for dismissal cites two rationales.

    1. She didn’t have a reasonable fear of great bodily harm or death. This is clearly error. This incident occurred nine days after she gave birth prematurely because of physical abuse from her husband, a man with a documented history of hurting her, so much so that she had an in force domestic violence injunction against him. That means a judge reviewed her situation and issued orders enjoining him from certain actions because of the evidence of abuse. Given that prior history, though she had not YET sustained an injury in this incident before obtaining her gun, it’s entirely reasonable for her to have believed she was about to be seriously hurt.

    As reported by CNN in 2012:

    Gray admitted to a history of physical abuse….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. “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.”

    At the hearing on Alexander’s motion for dismissal under the stand your ground law, 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.”

    On these facts, the greater credibility should have been given to Ms. Alexander’s testimony. Gray claims he lied under oath in his deposition, but was telling the truth during the SYG hearing when he recanted. Considering his documented history of abuse, Rico Gray’s testimony recanting his deposition should have been regarded with great skepticism.

    2. She could have escaped the scene but did not. Again, clear error on the judge’s part. The law (FL. 776.012) says flat out that the person invoking it has no duty to retreat. The statute itself says she does not have to flee. Further more, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that domestic abuse victims have no duty to retreat from their home before resorting to deadly force in self defense. She had no duty to do so under the law as it is written and Florida Supreme Court precedent.

    Applying the SYG statutes correctly as written (776.012 & 776.032), her motion to dismiss should have been granted and she should have walked.

    Prosecutor Angela Cory makes a spirited defense of her case against Marissa Alexander. She is adamant that Alexander fired the gun directly at Rico Gray in anger, not fear. Various reports say the bullet was recovered from the ceiling. I’ve not reviewed the ballistics information yet. However, Marissa was trained in the use of her weapon and was firing from close range. If she had fired directly at Rico Gray, to kill or injure, he would have been hit.

    Marissa should not be in jail.

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