In Florida, Not All ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defendants Are Created Equal

Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in jail after the Black woman fired a warning shot into the wall of her home.
By @katierucke |
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    This photo shows Marissa Alexander in her car in Tampa, Fla. Alexander had never been arrested before she fired a bullet at a wall one day in 2010 to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her. Nobody got hurt, but this month a northeast Florida judge was bound by state law to sentence her to 20 years in prison. (AP Photo/Lincoln B. Alexander)

    This photo shows Marissa Alexander in her car in Tampa, Fla. Alexander had never been arrested before she fired a bullet at a wall one day in 2010 to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her. Nobody got hurt, but this month a northeast Florida judge was bound by state law to sentence her to 20 years in prison. (AP/Lincoln B. Alexander)

    Outrage over George Zimmerman’s acquittal has continued this week, especially after Rev. Jesse Jackson called the public’s attention to another “stand your ground” case that he called a “travesty” of justice.

    Statistics compiled by the Tampa Bay Times, with the help of the conservative blog the Daily Caller, found that Black defendants in Florida appear to be more successful than Whites when it comes to successfully using the “stand your ground” law as a defense. According to the report, one-third of the successful claims were made by Black defendants.

    However, a report from The Atlantic came to a conflicting conclusion — killing a person of color was more likely to lead to a justified use of the law than killing a White person.

    Traveling to Florida this week, Jackson spotlighted the case of Marissa Alexander, a 32-year-old mother of three, who was sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in jail after the Black woman fired a warning shot into the wall of her home in 2010.

    Alexander says she fired the shot to end a violent argument she was having with her abusive husband. As reported in the Daily Beast, the incident occurred in July 2010, when Alexander’s husband Rico Gray found text messages on her phone and confronted her.

    In his deposition, Gray said he was mad about the messages and told Alexander, “If I can’t have you nobody going to have you.”

    Alexander reportedly tried to leave the bathroom, but Gray stopped her.

    “I met her where the sink was, and she wanted to get by me and I wouldn’t let her by and I was backing up slow but I was using my body to pretty much contain her in that one area where I want her to be at. [S]he got the bathroom door closed and she locked it, so I were beating on it. [I] was there waiting for her to come out of the bathroom,” he said.

    “I was in a rage. I was in a rage, so I was saying a lot of things,” he said. “I beat on the door hard enough where it could have been broken open. Probably has some dents. I was mad, you know … I called her a whore and a bitch.”

    Gray said Alexander went into the garage after leaving the bathroom, but because the garage door was locked, he knew she wouldn’t be able to leave.

    “She came back through the doors and she had a gun [from her car]. And she said, ‘You need to leave.’ I told her, I ain’t leaving until you talk to me … and I started walking towards her and she shot in the air,” he said.

    No one was shot, injured or killed, and Alexander did not have a criminal record.

    Still, Alexander is behind bars and has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, while Zimmerman — who has a criminal record for battery of a police officer, a restraining order for domestic abuse, and killed Martin — will spend no time behind bars.

    “In one case Mr. Zimmerman kills a young man and walks away, free to kill again,” Jackson said. “And Marissa shot no one, hurt no one, and she’s in jail for 20 years.”

    Jackson added that the “radical polarization in the judicial system” was cause for great concern.

    Talking to the Daily Beast, Alexander’s lawyer said, “When a woman or minority is claiming they are defending themselves, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt.”

    “Most battered women who kill in self-defense end up in prison. There is a well-documented bias against women [in these cases],” said Rita Smith, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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      • David Agosta

        If you read only her family and lawyers’ press releases (conveniently released right after the Zimmerman verdict), you get a different picture than if you know all of the facts of the case. The judge, after “weighing the credibility of all witnesses and other evidence,” denied her SYG motion.

        She claimed SYG because she was trapped by a “mechanical failure” of the garage door that worked when she parked the night before and worked when police tested it afterward the incident. Either we live in a world of self-repairing garage doors or garage-door fairies or she lied under oath .

        Four months after the incident, she violated a restraining order when she was so afraid off him that she needed a gun to protect herself from him, she went to his house alone and unarmed and punched him in the head.

        She lied about that incident, saying that she wasn’t there and had an alibi. When she couldn’t produce an alibi, she changed her story and admitted to being there.

        Her bail was revoked because of that and because she, the defendant and he, the victim, illegally discussed his testimony. He changed his story after that.

        Here’s the Court document: http://www.scribd.com/doc/89763280/Order-Denying-Defendants-Motion-for-Immunity-and-Motion-to-Dismiss