The Jacksonville, Florida woman whose 20-year sentence for firing warning shots at her ex-husband was overturned may face 60 years to life in prison if prosecutors successfully retry her case.
Marissa Alexander was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 2012 for firing three warning shots in the direction of her ex-husband, who she alleged was abusive. Her conviction was overturned after the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee ruled that the judge in her case, James Daniel, was wrong to instruct the jury that in order to be proven innocent, Alexander had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was a battered woman.
Alexander claimed at trial that her estranged husband, Rico Gray, had entered her house mere days after she’d given birth and demanded to know whether the baby was his. Fearing violence, Alexander said she locked herself in the bathroom, but he broke down the door. She ran to the garage, removed a gun from the glove compartment of her car, and went back into the house. She claimed that Gray charged at her, and that she fired three warning shots at him.
The prosecution disputed her claim that she acted in self-defense in firing the warning shots, noting that only two of the shots entered the ceiling. The other bullet hit the wall.
The jury believed that her claim that she was “in genuine fear for her life” didn’t meet the burden of proof established by Judge Daniel, and she was found guilty of all three charges.
Judge Daniel imposed three 20-year sentences, to be served concurrently, under Florida’s 10-20-life law, a mandatory minimum sentencing requirement for people convicted of using firearms during forcible felonies.
But in the years since her original conviction, interpretation of the 10-20-life law has shifted, such that the Office of State Attorney Angela Corey, which will begin retrying the case on July 28, 2014, will seek three consecutive 20-year sentences.
The First District Court of Appeal — the same appeals court that ordered Alexander’s retrial in 2013 — ruled in a separate case that when a defendant is convicted of multiple counts in the commission of the same crime, the 10-20-life rule demands that judges impose consecutive sentences.
Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei toldThe Florida Times-Union that, “[a]bsent a plea agreement, if convicted as charged, the law of the State of Florida fixes the sentence. At this time, Ms. Alexander has rejected all efforts by the State to resolve the case short of trial.”
Florida state Senator Greg Evers (R-Baker) will file a “warning shot” bill on Tuesday that — like its House equivalent — will legalize “displays,” such as Alexander’s, when used as “a means of self-defense [that do] not constitute the application of lethal force [when] justified in defense of life, home, and property.”
Watch a CNN interview with Alexander in which she explains the complexity of her case below.
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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