Marissa Alexander’s Sentencing Evokes Tears, Calls For Reform
Florida mother of three sentenced to 20 years in failed “Stand Your Ground” case
The battered mother, who drew national attention after seeking protection under Florida’s controversial self-defense law, was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison.
Marissa Alexander, 31, was convicted in March for firing a gun near her estranged husband, whom she claimed abused her repeatedly during their short marriage.
Judge James Daniel gave Alexander the mandatory minimum allowed by state law, but not before hearing tearful testimony from members of her family, including her sister and eldest daughter. Although one observer told Loop 21 that Daniel appeared unmoved by the family’s testimony, the judge said he was bound by Florida law to assign the stiff sentence.
Nonetheless, the decision outraged those at the courthouse, who believe Alexander’s case amplifies problems in the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law and “10-20-Life” felony sentencing guidelines. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, activists have rallied around a seemingly uneven application of the self-defense law.
Many felt members of her family suffered the biggest loss in Alexander’s case. Her sister, mother, brother, cousin, pastor and children were present to offer words of support.
Eleven-year-old Havalin Alexander, Marissa’s daughter, was permitted to speak in support of her mother, despite it being against protocol to allow a defendant’s children at sentencing proceedings, her father told Loop 21.
“She talked about how she felt about the domestic violence (Marissa) had to deal with,” said Lincoln Alexander, who was present in the courtroom with his daughter and her twin brother.
“She talked about her mom in general, what she means to her, how much she loves her, the things that she’s missed…that she hasn’t been with her for 435 days,” Lincoln said.
During the hearing, members of the civil rights activism group Dream Defenders stood up and sang, “We who believe in justice cannot rest, until it’s won.” Daniel had a handful of them removed from the courthouse, said Lucky Thomas, a member and Florida A&M University student.
Thomas said State Attorney Angela Corey attempted to address the family in a courthouse hallway after the sentencing, but the family was overwhelmed with tears.
Corey and Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) capped the emotional morning for the Alexander family with a heated exchange outside of the courtroom.
“Three years is not mercy and 20 years is not justice," Brown told Corey, referencing a plea deal that had been offered to Marissa before her trial earlier this year.
"If there ever was a stand-your-ground case, it was this one,” Brown said. “This is the beginning, not the end. Clearly there is institutional racism."
As she had done in an interview with Loop 21 on Monday, Corey explained her decision to prosecute Marissa. She’d determined Marissa’s actions were out of anger, not fear or self-defense. A battery conviction after the 2010 shooting incident against Marissa’s husband, Rico Gray, did not help convince a jury that she feared him, despite an active “no contact” injunction.
Corey, also the special prosecutor appointed to the Trayvon Martin case, has been roundly criticized for believing Gray, who has admitted changing his court-sworn statements about the incident for which Marissa will be imprisoned. Gray has a well-documented history of domestic violence, including a 2009 incident involving Marissa. Gray was never convicted in that case.
Marissa told Loop 21 on Monday that the state would be plagued with problems behind the “Stand Your Ground” law, unless it’s clear who exactly is allowed to claim the defense and under what conditions.
The case became a national story, much like the shooting death of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old Miami student. Family, activists and average citizens drew comparisons between Marissa’s predicament and that of George Zimmerman, who admitted killing Martin in February and initially avoided jail, by claiming the “Stand Your Ground” defense.
Zimmerman now faces a second-degree murder charge, which legal analysts believe is unlikely to go to trial until next year.
Marissa, her family, and attorney Kevin Cobbin vowed to begin the appeals process, said Angie Nixon, a family spokesperson and organizer with a minority rights group, Florida New Majority.
Nixon’s group said Marissa’s case also serves as a lightening rod for victims and advocates groups against domestic abuse.
In 2010, the same year Marissa was charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, there were more than 113,000 reported incidences of the domestic violence, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. More than 200 of those incidents were related to murder or manslaughter.
In Marissa's case, Gray and his two sons, who were present during the shooting incident, were not physically harmed.
Contact Loop 21 staff writer Aaron Morrison at 347-855-3140 or email@example.com.