Stand Your Ground: Why It Didn't Work For Marissa Alexander

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UPDATE: Marissa Alexander had something very special to be thankful for Wednesday night. After three years in jail, she was released on $200,009 bail and returned to her family, including her youngest daughter. Alexander's initial conviction was overturned in September after a judge ordered a mistrial due to unfair jury instructions. Alexander's new trial date is set for March 31, 2014. Until then, we're just happy to see a mother and her children reunited for the holidays. (MSNBC)

This story was originally published on June 19, 2013.



In the aftermath of George Zimmerman's controversial acquittal, one case in particular is making headlines again. In 2010, Marissa Alexander was tried and convicted of three counts of aggravated assault after firing a warning shot at a wall to scare her abusive husband. Her claim: self-defense. "I believe when he threatened to kill me, that's what he was going to do," Alexander, now 32, told CNN. "And had I not discharged my weapon at that point, I would not be here."

You can see where the parallels between the cases begin. Both Alexander and Zimmerman live in Florida, both say they were reacting in fear of their lives, both call attention to the divisive issue of race — and both cases were prosecuted by State Attorney Angela Corey. And though the Zimmerman trial has propelled Alexander's case back into the public spotlight, the similarities end there.

Because unlike Zimmerman, Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison — without parole — due to the "10-20-Life law," which punishes anyone who fires a gun while committing a felony with a 20-year-minimum sentence. She also attempted to use the self-defense legislation known as Stand Your Ground, which allows individuals in Florida and 29 other states to use deadly force if they or their homes are in imminent danger.

Alexander had been physically abused by husband Rico Gray, and had a restraining order against him. Still, she chose to return to Gray's home, where the altercation began. In a deposition, Gray even admitted that if his children weren't there, he would have fought back. "I got five baby mamas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one," he said. Later, in court, Gray recanted his statement and changed his story, saying he was scared for his life when he saw the gun. So, when she grabbed her gun from her car in the garage after Gray allegedly strangled her that day, she was, indeed, standing her ground, right? No, not according to Corey.

“She put a round in the chamber, and she fired that shot out of anger, not fear,” the prosecutor said to the Washington Post. “She didn’t need to use that gun. Those kids were scared to death. They ran for their lives.” She could have just left, argued Corey, which is why Alexander's Stand Your Ground defense was not held up in court.

This all begs the question: If SYG was admissible, wouldn't the jury have deliberated longer, say the 13 hours during the Zimmerman case, instead of the 12 minutes it took before convicting Alexander? If this had not been a black-on-black crime, would the verdict have been different? More importantly, does the punishment fit the crime?

Whatever you're feeling about George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin, or the criminal-justice system in general, there is hope for Alexander: Public outcry and civil rights advocates are pressuring prosecutors to take another look at her case. In fact, almost 90,000 have signed a petition calling Florida Governor Rick Scott to pardon her. And, more and more petitions, including this one on Change.org, pop up online as her story spreads.

Photo: Via USNews.