Despite the potentially difficult public relations stemming from the 20-year prison sentence handed down to Marissa Alexander, the 32-year-old Jacksonville mother of three who said she fired a warning shot over the head of her abusive husband in August 2010, State Attorney Angela Corey is pressing on with the case.
An appeals court threw out the conviction against Alexander in September and the state has set March 31, 2014 as a new trial date.
On Wednesday, the judge in the case held a bond hearing, and Alexander’s family, including her former husband, Lincoln Alexander, with whom she has two children from that marriage, was hopeful that it would result in her being freed pending the new trial.
Instead, Judge James Daniel postponed a decision on whether to grant bond. And Corey’s office, through prosecutor Richard Mantei, argued that nothing about the facts of the case — or about Marissa Alexander — had changed, such that she should be set free.
In response to theGrio’s requests for comment, Corey’s spokesperson, Jackelyn Barnard, provided copies of the state’s motion to deny bond, and police reports regarding a previous domestic incident involving Alexander and her current husband, Rico Gray, with whom she has a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
Sources close to Alexander’s family say Wednesday’s decision isn’t necessarily a setback. And her lawyers are expected to file additional information with the court while awaiting the judge’s decision.
The attorney representing Gray said he wasn’t surprised by the judge’s caution.
“It could have potentially been volatile in the courtroom if he ruled from the bench either way,” Attorney Richard Kurt told theGrio, adding that as he sees it, the judge “wants to take all the evidence and argument that he heard into account and make an appropriate ruling.” Kurt went on to say, “Judge Daniel is a very fair judge and will be guided by his thoughts on the evidence presented and not what any prior judge has ruled.”
Alexander’s case has drawn outrage from African-Americans, a global anti-domestic violence group which formed to champion her cause, the local NAACP and most publicly from Jacksonville area Congresswoman Corinne Brown, who has cited the history of domestic violence Alexander faced at Gray’s hands as evidence that Corey’s office has made the wrong party the victim.
Corey has argued vehemently that the victims were Gray and his two sons, who were in the kitchen when Alexander returned from the garage and fired a gunshot into the kitchen ceiling of her and Gray’s home. Corey contends that they were the true victims in the 2010 gun incident, and that Gray was subsequently victimized in a second confrontation with Alexander on December 30, 2010, in which Alexander was arrested for misdemeanor battery, and her bond back then was revoked. In their bond motion this week, Alexander’s lawyers argued that it was she who was beaten in that December 2010 incident, providing email messages from Gray that included the line: “If I can’t have you nobody can.”
Alexander has already served a 365-day sentence on the battery charge — part of the 1,007 days she had been behind bars as of Wednesday.
Natalie Jackson, who was part of the legal team representing the family of Trayvon Martin in the other high-profile case Corey’s office prosecuted — against George Zimmerman, who was acquitted on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in July — says she understands why Corey is sticking with the prosecution, despite the public relations challenges.
“I think the State Attorney’s Office is trying to use this case to show how misinformed people are to compare Marissa Alexander’s case to George Zimmerman’s,” Jackson says. “To an extent, they are right. Although both cases highlighted problems in the justice system where minority are concerned, Zimmerman’s case was about the unfairness of Stand Your Ground Laws while Marissa [Alexander’s] case is about a whole other battle we are fighting; the unfairness of Minimum Mandatory Laws.”
During her original trial, Alexander’s attempt to utilize Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was rebuffed by the judge. After a brief deliberation by the jury, Alexander was convicted and sentenced under Florida’s 10-20-Life law, which mandates a 20-year sentence for a felony committed with a firearm.
Corey’s office had initially offered Alexander a three-year plea deal, which Alexander rejected through her then-attorney. Ironically, had she taken it, she would have already served her sentence.
Jackson says that because children were at the scene of the gunshot Alexander fired into the ceiling, though no one was injured, that’s likely fueling Corey’s passion to see the case through.
“Two of the three counts were against children. I think Angela Corey is digging in an attempt to show that she is a law-and-order prosecutor who is tough on crime. I think she wants to prove that she will prosecute crimes no matter who the perpetrator or the victim is. I also think Corey wants some vindication, and, unfortunately, because of the laws in Florida she will probably get it in Marissa’s case unless domestic violence advocate groups get involved. I always thought this was a case that domestic violence advocates should rally around. Victims of domestic violence don’t need prison, they need help and counseling. Marissa Alexander should not be facing mandatory minimums. I think the real question is, why are all these domestic violence advocate groups silent?”
One group that has spoken out, the Miami Workers Center/Sisterhood of Survivors, issued a statement following Wednesday’ hearing, calling the judge’s decision to delay a bond decision “atrocious, cowardly and inconceivable.”
“No one but Marissa really knows what her life was like before she was arrested but, so many of us are all too familiar with the horrific stories of domestic abuse,” the statement continued. “We can imagine the physical pain, emotional agony, and psychological torture she suffered. In spite of all that, Marissa endured and survived, only to pay the price of being re-victimized by our criminal justice system and having her babies stripped away. Marissa doesn’t belong behind bars. She is not a criminal, she is a survivor. The fact that she was not granted bond today is yet another example of how the very system that should have protected her, has once again further victimized and criminalized her.”
As for Gray, his attorney expects the case to end with Alexander no longer facing 20 years in prison, though he sees little chance of an acquittal, despite the outpouring of public sympathy for Alexander (and vilification of Gray) that the case has provoked.
“I would be shocked and disappointed if this case did not end in a plea deal,” Kurt said. “If it goes to trial again, the defense is betting on jury sympathy as opposed to the strength of their case; that’s a dangerous gamble.”
Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.