Marissa Alexander case exposes ambiguity of 'Stand Your Ground' law
To her family and supporters, Marissa Alexander is a woman who stood her ground.
When she fired a warning shot over the head of her husband, she and her family members say it was to prevent another beating.
On August 1, 2010, Alexander had gone back to the home she rented with 36-year-old Rico Edward Gray, whom she had married only three months before. She had moved out of the house a month after the marriage, according to her first husband, Lincoln Alexander, with whom the mother of three maintained a friendship. Lincoln and Marissa have 11-year-old twins, who had never gotten the chance to see their newborn baby half-sister, who was born prematurely nine days before.
According to Lincoln Alexander, and Marissa’s younger sister, Helena Jenkins, Marissa had already moved her children’s clothing from the home after repeated physical abuse by Gray, who they say even flung Marissa across a couch while she was pregnant, then head butted her, blackening her eye.
On that day, Marissa arrived to gather her clothing, with the intention of returning to her mother’s house. But after she showed Gray pictures of their daughter on her cell phone, Marissa went to the bathroom, during which time Gray, who her family called extremely jealous, rifled through her phone.
On it, Gray found text messages that Marissa had sent to Lincoln the night before, including photos of the baby for the twins to see. Lincoln said those texts also included confirmation that she would finally be leaving Gray permanently. The police report indicates the messages hinted that Marissa and Lincoln could be getting back together.
According to her statement to police, Gray became enraged. He burst into the bathroom, threw her against the door, and threatened her.
According to Gray’s deposition, in which he admits to previous instances of domestic violence, including against Alexander, he admits that he told her, “if I can’t have you, no one can,” and that he was enraged that she intended to leave him.
Marissa, according to her statements, said she managed to get past him, and ran into the garage. But according to both her and Gray’s statements, she couldn’t get out of the house through the garage, because it was locked, and the automatic door wasn’t working. So Marissa Alexander grabbed her licensed handgun out of her car and ran back into the house, where she confronted Gray in the kitchen. He was standing there with his two sons — an older one, who lives with his mother, and the younger son, who is 11, like Marissa and Lincoln’s twins.
Marissa fired one shot into the air, which lodged in the kitchen ceiling. Gray, in his deposition, admits she never pointed the gun at him. Lincoln says that on the 911 call, the man he calls only “the abuser” told the dispatcher he was “so pissed.” Not scared — pissed.
Lincoln said he got a call from Marissa’s sister saying SWAT teams were all around the house.
But he said when police arrived, they didn’t take pictures of the bathroom’s dented door, or of Marissa Alexander’s injuries. “They took only three pictures,” Lincoln Alexander said, “The gun, the bullet casing and the hole in the ceiling.”
“She told police that she was in fear,” Lincoln said, “She told police there was an order of protection [in place] to prevent her husband from beating her. Both of those things are reflected in the police report.
According to court documents, Marissa is 5’2” tall and weighed 140 pounds at the time of the incident. Gray, whom she is in the process of divorcing, is 5’5”, and weighs some 245 pounds.
Alexander was charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and initially with aggravated child abuse, because she fired the shot with the children in the room. The judge who heard the stand your ground motion put forward by her attorney, Kevin Cobbin, rejected it.
Judge Elizabeth Senterfitt, a former prosecutor, said Alexander could have found some other way to flee the home. This despite the fact that the Stand Your Ground law states that those who feel threatened have no duty to retreat.
As the days ticked down toward the trial, Alexander was offered a plea deal by prosecutors in the office of Angela Corey — now known nationwide as the special prosecutor in the George Zimmerman case, in which he claims self-defense in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin — first of five years, and then at the last minute, of 2 years in prison and three years probation.
She turned it down, insisting on her innocence.
“At that point, Marissa’s mind was made up,” Lincoln Alexander said. “She was just going to go ahead and argue the case.”
At the trial, Gray’s older son disputed his father’s claim of being the victim. Marissa’s sister, her mother, and Lincoln testified to Gray’s previous abuse.
Gray has prior arrests, for petty theft in 1995, and for loitering and “prowling” that same year. He had been arrested for domestic battery in 2006 and 2009, and said in his own deposition that he had “put his hands” on every woman in his life except one. In the 2009 incident, which involved Marissa when the two were living together before they were married, the police report states that Gray choked her and threw her into a hallway closet. The altercation continued in the bathroom, where the police report says Alexander claimed Gray “struck her, knocking her into the tub where she hit her head.” In that instance, Alexander police Gray wouldn’t let her leave, but that she “just wanted to leave and take her children to their father.”
Cobbin put expert witnesses on the stand to talk about battered woman syndrome.
It didn’t matter.
Marissa Alexander was convicted by a jury of three women and three men, one of them an African-American woman like Marissa.
“It took them 13 minutes,” Lincoln said of the jury. “They didn’t ask to look at anything. They pretty much made their decision in ten minutes that she was guilty.”
On Monday, Judge James Daniel, the third judge to hear the case, and the presiding judge in Alexander’s criminal proceeding, will hear her lawyer’s argument that she should be given a new trial. They compare her case to Angela Morrow, an Atlantic Beach, Florida woman, Angela Morrow, who shot her allegedly abusive husband, James Lee Morrow, to death with a shotgun blast to the chest, and was not arrested — cleared under Stand Your Ground.
Her family has fanned out on radio, talking about Marissa’s case on The Tom Joyner Morning Show and The Michael Baisden Show. They’ve created a petition at Change.org, the same website that Trayvon Martin’s family used to gather 2 million signatures demanding an arrest in his shooting death.
Lincoln Alexander says that when he’s not working, or pushing for justice for his former wife, he is keeping their children busy, with sports, activities — anything “so they are not at home with that constant reminder of mom not being there.”
“There have been a couple times, when they have been down and disappointed,” Lincoln Alexander said. “When we lost the case initially, that was a tough day. They had another tough day when I had to have the conversation with them about the number of years she was facing.”
That number is 20. Under Florida’s 10-20-Life law, if a person is convicted of a crime involving a gun, they must serve an automatic 10-year sentence, with no discretion for the judge. If the gun is fired, it’s 20 years. If someone is killed by that gunfire, it’s 25 years to life.
Helena told theGrio her sister is trying to be strong for her children, but that she has down days, too.
“She is ready to come home to her children,” Jenkins said.
Worse, Gray has not allowed the family to see the now nearly 20-month-old girl whose baby picture in Alexander’s cell phone touched off the argument that could mean the child could grow up never knowing her mother.
“He won’t let the family see the baby at all,” Jenkins said.
Lincoln says the family and Marissa are fighting to have her mother take custody of the child.
In the meantime, the NAACP, the National Action Network and other civil rights and community groups are rallying around Marissa, calling hers a case of “stand your ground” in reverse.
Corey’s office said they cannot comment because the case is ongoing. A telephone number for Gray was listed as disconnected, and he could not be reached at his employer.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday morning in the Duval County courthouse.
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