31-year-old Marissa Alexander was cornered by her abusive husband when she fired a warning shot into the ceiling of their home, using a gun she was licensed to carry. The August, 2010 incident led to the Jacksonville, Florida resident’s conviction of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to newspaper The Florida Times-Union.
Her defense attorney, Kevin Cobbin has filed numerous motions for a retrial on grounds that her case is within the bounds of instances covered under the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, but Florida Circuit Court Judge James Daniel on Thursday denied them all. Critics of the judge’s ruling, including the local NAACP, charge that Alexander’s race has been a factor in her sentencing and denial of a retrial.
Alexander claims she was acting in self-defense, that her husband, Rico Gray, attacked her when he found messages to her ex-husband on her cell phone. Gray has said in testimony that he had previously warned Alexander that he would kill her if he ever found out that she had been unfaithful. In her panic, she ran to the garage, hoping to escape. Once there, she found that she did not have her keys and that the garage door was broken.
“I knew I had to protect myself,” she told CNN in an interview from behind bars, “I believe when he threatened to kill me, that’s what he was absolutely going to do.”
Feeling that there was no other route of escape, Alexander armed herself and re-entered the house. Gray confronted her, threatening to kill her once again. The mother of three turned her face away and fired a warning shot into the ceiling in hopes that Gray would back down, which he did, taking his children from a previous relationship and fleeing the house.
No one was hurt, but now Alexander is facing a mandatory 20-year sentence with no chance of parole. She turned down earlier plea deals that would have offered her three years in jail, maintaining that she only fired the gun in self-defense.
Defense attorney Cobbin has cited Gray’s previous arrests for domestic violence and insists that his client’s actions were legal under “Stand Your Ground.” Both Circuit Court Judge Daniel and Circuit Judge Elizabeth Senterfitt, however, have ruled against Alexander.
Jacksonville NAACP head Isaiah Rumlin told the Times-Union that the evidence speaks to a miscarriage of justice, “After looking into it and studying the case, this is a clear case of Stand Your Ground as it relates to what she had to do on the date that she did it.”
The group sent a letter to Judge Daniel asking him to postpone his ruling and suggesting that Alexander’s race, gender and economic status were factors in the court’s handling of the case.
Daniel was unmoved. “Maybe I would be agreeing to a new Stand Your Ground motion, which highlights some of the difficulties we are struggling with procedurally implementing this new law,” he wrote, “but ultimately the motion is denied.” In his opinion, Alexander’s decision to re-enter the house was “inconsistent with a person in genuine fear of his or her life.”
“Stand Your Ground” was invoked by one of the defense teams that have represented George Zimmerman, Jr., the volunteer neighborhood watch captain who shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in the chest, killing him, earlier this year.
The blog Wonkette reacted to Judge Daniel’s ruling by saying, “In Florida, as it turns out, being in ‘genuine fear of your life’ means that you’re white and your attacker is black, so clearly that was her first mistake. Also, if you really want to Stand Your Ground you have to call the police only to ignore their instructions anyway, so there’s that. And crucially, it doesn’t say anywhere if her husband was wearing a hoodie when he was threatening to beat her up, which we hear is a relevant aspect of whether or not black men are actually scary.”
Marissa Alexander’s sentencing is scheduled for May 11.
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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