Marissa Alexander, the 31-year-old Florida woman who fired what her family calls a warning shot at her abusive husband, was sentenced Friday morning to 20 years in prison.
Alexander was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for firing into a wall near her husband and his two young children at their Jacksonville home in 2010. Alexander has maintained that she wasn’t trying to hurt anyone and that she was standing her ground against a man who had over the course of nearly a year punched and choked her on several different occasions. Alexander says that she believed she was protected that day under the state’s Stand Your Ground Law, which gives people wide discretion in using deadly force to defend themselves.
A judge and a jury disagreed.
The State Attorney’s Office offered a plea bargain that would have sent Alexander to prison for three years, but she rejected it, hoping to convince a jury that she had been defending herself when she fired the weapon.
Alexander’s case has become the latest battleground in a fight against what Alexander’s supporters call the misapplication of the Stand Your Ground Law and Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which offer stiff sentences for crimes involving guns.
According to Florida’s 10-20-Life statutes, anyone who pulls a gun during a crime receives a mandatory 10-year sentence. Firing a gun during the commission of a crime equals a mandatory 20-year sentence. Anyone convicted of shooting and killing another person during a crime is sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Alexander, who did not have a criminal record before the shooting, was convicted of felony assault with a gun.
“Florida’s mandatory 10-20-life gun law forced the Court to impose an arbitrary, unjust and completely inappropriate sentence,” said Greg Newburn, Florida project director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a group that fights to repeal such laws. “As long as Florida keeps its inflexible gun sentencing laws, we will continue to see cases like Ms. Alexander’s.”
Alexander, a mother of three, and her family have vowed to keep fighting.
Jenkins said the family is currently raising funds to hire another attorney to appeal Alexander’s case.
Angela Corey, the state attorney who oversaw the case against Alexander, said that justice was indeed served and that Alexander was angry and reckless, not fearful, on the night of the shooting. Just because no one was harmed in the incident doesn’t make the shooting any less a punishable crime, Corey said.
“I feel like when someone fires a loaded gun inside of a home with two children standing in the direction where the bullet was fired, we have to have tough laws that say you don’t do that,” Corey told HuffPost. “Justice, with the laws of the state of Florida, was served. But I don’t believe her supporters will ever believe that.”
One by one, Alexander’s family members addressed the court, including Alexander’s mother and father, a sister and a brother who broke down in tears as they talked about their sister and how they believe the system had wronged her.
Alexander’s daughter, Havelin, 11, read from a letter she’d written and questioned “how my mom could be beaten but she’s the one arrested,” according to Lincoln Alexander, the girl’s father and Marissa’s ex-husband.
“That’s the reason why I’m fighting,” Lincoln Alexander told Huffpost. “I’m fighting for my kids … I knew this day was coming and my thoughts were on them. Would they be strong enough?”
If Alexander’s future appeals are unsuccessful, and she serves her full 20-year term in prison, her twins will be 31 years old when she is released. Her youngest will be 22.
“Today was another tough day for them,” Lincoln Alexander said of his kids. “Once they took Marissa away and we walked out of the court and everything was over, that’s when it was toughest.”
On Aug. 1, 2010, a fight between Alexander and her husband, Rico Gray, 36, left her cornered in the couple’s home. She fled into the garage to escape but was trapped behind a jammed door, she stated in court documents. She said she grabbed the gun she kept in the garage, returned to the house and, when Gray threatened to kill her, fired a single shot to ward him off.
Gray ran out of the house with his two sons and called the police. Alexander was arrested and charged. She unsuccessfully invoked her right to stand her ground in court. Alexander’s sentencing comes 435 days after the shooting. It took a jury 12 minutes to find her guilty.
Gray himself admitted in a deposition to abusing “all five of his babies’ mamas except one,” and to hitting Alexander. Alexander’s family and supporters say that Gray’s testimony should not be trusted, because he perjured himself by changing his account of events on the night of the shooting between his early depositions and later court hearings — a claim that was not disputed by Corey, the state attorney.
The crooked justice system in Florida is at work again. Marissa Alexander needs to be freed. We pray she’ll win a successful appeal, she’s already lost two years of her life behind bars. SMH.
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