From behind bars, Marissa Alexander awaits appeal, yearns for an emotional bond with daughter

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander, 31. The mother of three was sentenced to twenty years in prison for firing a warning shot to fend off an attack form her husband.

When Marissa Alexander’s daughter turned three on Tuesday, her mother her mother made no plans for a birthday party. Instead, the 31-year-old remains in a Duval County Florida jail awaiting the latest hearing in her case.

Last spring, Alexander was sentenced to a mandatory 20-year sentence under Florida’s 10-20-life statute, after a jury took 12 minutes to convict her of three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm for firing a warning shot over the head of her husband, Rico Gray, who Alexander said abused and threatened her. She faced three counts because Gray’s two sons, aged 10 and 12 at the time, were with him in the kitchen when the confrontation took place.

Alexander said she acted out of fear when she ran into her garage and retrieved a gun from her car, then returned to the house to confront Gray. The prosecutor, Angela Corey, argued she acted in anger.  Alexander said she was just standing her ground, but a  judge rejected that claim. Her lawyers have begun the process of filing an appeal, lead attorney Bruce Zimet, told theGrio.

“We have filed our briefs, the state of Florida has filed their briefs, and we’re waiting for the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee to set oral arguments or render an opinion,” Zimet said on Monday. “We have no real timetable as to when that’s going to happen.”

In the meantime, Alexander is expected to be transported from the county jail back to prison on Wednesday.

Zimet explained the options before the three-judge panel: they could reverse the conviction based on errors found in Alexander’s trial, or they can find that the judge in the case made a mistake by not granting Alexander immunity under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which would result in her being freed. There is a third option: that the judges could reject Alexander’s appeal altogether, leaving her to face 20 years behind bars.

“One of the ironies in the case is that the outcry is to overturn or rescind the Stand Your Ground statute,” Zimet said. “But Marissa is trying to use that statute as the basis for her to be acquitted in the case.”

Zimmerman trial breathes new life into Marissa Alexander case

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a case Corey’s office prosecuted, is shining a fresh spotlight on Alexander’s case. Lincoln Alexander, her former husband, with whom she remains close, told theGrio on Monday that Marissa is aware, to the extent she can be, of the growing support for her online and among those who have expressed outrage at Corey’s office for losing the Zimmerman case, but prosecuting the mother-of-three with such vigor.

Among them: Congresswoman Corinne Brown  (D-FL),  who has clashed with Corey over the case, and who recently accused Corey of showing “no compassion” for Alexander. Rep. Brown did not return calls for comment.

Lincoln Alexander says Marissa’s spirits are high, and that she is “fully aware” of the Zimmerman verdict, though he declined to elaborate on his or her feelings about it, given that they face the same prosecutor in Marissa’s case.

As for the public support, which has included petitions for her freedom, or for a pardon by the governor, Lincoln Alexander said, “we have talked to her about that. I know I have, just to let her know that she does have a lot of people supporting her and praying for her.” And he said another close family member, who talks to Ms. Alexander more often than anyone, has shared the public support with her too. But he said, “It’s hard for her to understand the magnitude of it because she is not able to see it for herself.” But he said that she is appreciative of the support.

Mostly, though, Alexander said Marissa misses her children — including the two boys with Lincoln Alexander, and her toddler with Gray.

“Of the three kids, the baby has been a very sore subject with the family since the abuser took custody of her,” Lincoln Alexander said, referring to Gray, who was arrested in 2009 for attacking Alexander and who said in a 2010 deposition: “I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know they never knew what I was thinking or what I might do. Hit them, push them.”

Lincoln Alexander, who said he had spoken with his former wife just hours before he talked to theGrio on Monday, added: “our two kids are able to see Marissa frequently, usually twice a month.  Marissa has been able to see her baby, who turns 3 today once in a while with no frequency.  It’s been very difficult for her to build a relationship and bond with her.  Strides are being made with the abuser to allow visitation with Marissa and allow a true mother-daughter bond to establish itself.”

Gray’s lawyer: ‘ Not his fault’

Reached for comment Monday, Gray referred all comments to his attorney, Richard Kuritz, who said Gray never wanted Alexander to spend 20 years in prison, and he blames the Florida legislature, which passed the 10-20-Life law, for her plight.

“The problem with this case is not with my client, it’s not with the judge, it’s not the prosecution,” Kuritz said. “It’s the politicians who pass these mandatory minimum laws, so some legislator is tying the hands of the judge. The prosecutor offered to let [Alexander] plead to a lesser charge and serve three years instead of 20, and she rejected the plea.”

Kuritz denies Gray abused Alexander, saying Gray made up the inflammatory statements in his deposition and changed his account of what happened on the night of the shooting incident in order to help Alexander avoid the harsher charges.

“My client tried to help Marissa to be not prosecuted so severely, by saying it was his fault and he’s a bad guy, and it didn’t work. He never wanted her to go to prison for 20 years. Now he’s laying low because he’s getting death threats, and his 16-year-old son, who has the same name is getting threats.”

Kuritz also disagrees with those who say State Attorney Corey overcharged Alexander.

“If there is a gun crime that puts a child in danger, then Angela Corey is going to prosecute it to the fullest,” Kuritz, a former prosecutor himself, said. “If you fire a gun in a situation where a child says, ‘I’m fixing to die,'” which Kuritz said Rico Gray’s 12-year-old told authorities he felt that night “that’s aggravated manslaughter. [Corey] was willing to do a reduced plea of three. A judge rejected her Stand Your Ground claim, and then she was convicted and the judge had no choice but to sentence her to 20 years. She chose to roll the dice. Jury took 12 minutes. What does that tell you about the case?”

Kuritz called the 20-year sentence “ridiculous for this set of facts,” but said that those protesting Alexander’s incarceration should focus on the legislature, not Corey, and not Rico Gray.  Zimet, meanwhile, said Marissa remains hopeful that her conviction will be overturned.

“She’s an incredibly strong woman,” Zimet said. “She’s optimistic. She really has strong religious beliefs and she really believes that somehow, some way, the system is gonna correct itself. She certainly is aware of the public support that has been mushrooming over the last ten days, and the more support she has, the more it reinforces her belief that eventually the outcome is going to be corrected, and she will be home with her kids.”

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