Marissa Alexander’s Stand Your Ground Debacle Explained
Without retrial, battered Florida mother unlikely to benefit from self-defense law
Although eerily similar to the explanation George Zimmerman gave Florida authorities within hours of shooting Trayvon Martin, the following words aren’t his:
“I was fearing for my life and that's why I fired.”
They are actually a plea for lenience from Marissa Alexander. She’s the Jacksonville mother of three, sitting in jail and awaiting a minimum 20-year prison sentence for defending herself against her estranged husband, who has a well-documented history of domestic violence.
A judge will likely decide Alexander’s fate this week.
Her lawyer, Kevin Cobbin, says his client’s ordeal sends a troubling message to victims of abuse and to those concerned about uneven application of “Stand Your Ground” laws.
“This case says, sit there and take your beating,” Cobbin told Loop 21, over the weekend. “If you try to defend yourself, the abuser becomes the victim and (the state is) going to help him to get you incarcerated.”
Alexander, 31, endured strangulation, beatings, and hospitalization, including an incident causing the premature birth of her youngest child, Cobbin said. The abuse happened over the span of a few years, before Alexander decided to use deadly force in defense against her attacker.
In the prosecutor’s assessment, the victim in question wasn’t Alexander. The man at the center of the battered woman’s on-going nightmare, Rico Gray, is the alleged victim. Loop 21 contacted Gray, who refused to be interviewed without compensation.
Duval County court records show Gray’s history of domestic battery dates back to 1994. A more recent battery incident on Gray’s record resulted in Alexander’s hospitalization. Gray has been arrested and received probation for the abuse.
In a deposition for the case against Alexander, Gray cops to having previously struck his wife and other women he’s been romantically involved with.
“And the third incident (with Alexander) we was staying together and I pushed her back and she fell in the bathtub and hit her head and I – you know, by the time I ran downstairs and got in my car to leave, you know, that’s the time I went to jail, the police picked me up down the street,” Gray said in his deposition.
[ALSO READ: Sharpton To Take Up Alexander's Case]
In 2010, Alexander fought her way out of her last violent encounter with Gray. Using her registered handgun, Alexander scared him off with a single gunshot through the ceiling of their home. No one was injured in the incident.
Gray called police and the responding officers believed his version of the story, which appeared more sympathetic. His two preteen sons were present during the violent encounter, Cobbin said.
Less than a month after the incident, Alexander was charged with three felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Loop 21’s review of court and corrections department records, along with interviews conducted last week, back up several aspects of Alexander’s story.
Documented abuse at the hands of her husband hasn’t been enough to secure her freedom, nor establish that she had the right to stand her ground. She was arrested and booked on the spot, unlike Zimmerman in the Martin case. He evaded arrest and a murder charge for more than a month, as Martin’s parents grieved publicly and called for impartial justice. Late Sunday night, after a little more than a week in jail, Zimmerman was released on bond.
A pre-trial judge denied Alexander's self-defense motion, after determining she could have escaped her attacker "through the front or back door." Alexander pled not guilty and rejected a plea deal from State Attorney Angela Corey’s office, the same administration that filed a second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman. Last month, six jurors found Alexander guilty of all charges.
Alexander hasn’t killed anyone. To Cobbin's knowledge, Gray and his two sons are alive and well. She is, however, kept away from their premature baby and her two children from a previous marriage.
“How come Zimmerman didn't even get arrested and I don't fall under that, when I was clearly the kind of person that the Stand Your Ground law should be protecting?” Alexander asked, during a recent conversation Cobbin relayed to Loop 21.
Like too many women in her situation, Cobbin added, Alexander had previously returned to Gray and asked a prosecutor to drop abuse charges against him. They obliged.
But even with all the evidence, a jury did not side with Alexander’s claim of self-defense. Cobbin told Loop 21 that the judge who heard Alexander’s Stand Your Ground motion determined she could have found another way to exit the house.
Lincoln Alexander, Marissa’s ex-husband and father to her twins, has been fighting this and other assertions – that Marissa had the duty to retreat from Gray’s attacks and not defend herself.
“She should have been allowed to stand her ground,” Lincoln explained to radio host Michael Baisden last week. “She was trapped in her home, in her bathroom.”
Lincoln and Helena Jenkins, Marissa’s sister, have been diligent about publicizing her case. The two have launched a blog explaining the situation in Marissa’s own words. There is also a Change.org petition in support of her case, as well as a legal defense fund.
Everything about the case left those observing it in complete disbelief. John Kattman, Marissa’s former attorney, kept in contact with Cobbin through the remainder of her court proceedings.
“Not only was Mrs. Alexander and (Cobbin) taken aback by the verdict, also everybody in the courtroom,” Kattman told Loop 21 last week.
Unless a judge grants Cobbin’s motion for a new trial, it’s likely she’ll await the appeals process in a state prison. The case has quickly become another example of how unequal the justice system can be, particularly for domestic abuse victims and for minorities.
“It's taken cases like Trayvon Martin to show people that this happens all the time, that the law is not used equally,” Cobbin said. “(Stand Your Ground) does not apply to some people for certain reasons.”
Rev. Al Sharpton and Baisden have pledged to bring attention to Marissa’s case, while the nation’s attention is focused on the “Stand Your Ground “ law and other seeming miscarriages of justice.
NOTE: A earlier version of this story has been updated to clarify reasons Alexander's self-defense motion was denied, corrects a description of Alexander's premature baby, and clarifies a description of conversations had between Alexander's former and current attorneys.
Contact Loop21 staff writer Aaron Morrison at 347-855-3140 or email@example.com.