Duval County, Florida prosecutor Angela Corey has something to say to those who have expressed outrage over the prosecution of Marissa Alexander: they are misguided, and missing the point.
Corey, the state attorney who prosecuted the 31-year-old mother of three for firing a gun near where her husband, Rico Gray, was standing with his two sons, had already gained national notoriety in the prosecution of the man who killed Trayvon Martin. Now, she is facing the backlash over a case her office put to rest in March, with many of the same people who praised her for bringing second degree murder charges against George Zimmerman in the Martin killing, condemning her for putting Alexander away.
The fiery prosecutor, known for her fierce victim’s advocacy, takes issue with the protests and the outrage on Alexander’s behalf, saying the Jacksonville woman was the aggressor, not the victim, in the August 2010 incident.
“Because she was not fleeing from an abuser,” Corey told theGrio in answer to why Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was not applied in Alexander’s case, even though Florida’s Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a woman being abused in her own home by her husband has no duty to flee. “A judge heard all the facts and evidence and said that this was not a case of ‘Stand Your Ground,’ Corey said. “You have to compare what [Marissa Alexander] said to what the victims said. There were two young children there as well. None of the physical evidence corroborates her story. There was the 911 call … and you can clearly hear the distress in Rico Gray’s voice. They had a verbal argument [in which] he said ‘I’m outta here,’ and she said, ‘I’ve got something for you.’”
Though what happened inside that house on Woodley Creek Road remains in dispute, one thing both sides in the case agree on is that Gray and Alexander were arguing about text messages Alexander had sent to her former husband, Lincoln Alexander, including pictures of her new baby with Gray.
When Gray saw the texts, a fight ensued in the home’s master bathroom, which eventually spilled out into the kitchen. At some point, Alexander went to the garage and got her semi-automatic pistol. She has claimed she went into the garage to flee, but the automatic door wasn’t working, and she realized she had left her keys and cellphone inside. For whatever reason, she went back into the house and confronted Gray, firing a single shot, which Lincoln Alexander and Marissa, on her website, maintain was a warning shot fired into the air. But Corey says that shot was fired at “adult height,” directly at Gray, who was standing in the adjacent living room with his sons, who were aged 9 and 13 at the time
”[Gray] told his boys, ‘get your clothes, we’re out of here.’ And she and went in the garage and into the glove compartment, got out a gun, got it in a ‘ready to fire’ position — it’s a semiautomatic and it had the safety off, and she had a round in the chamber,” Corey said. “And she walked back into the kitchen and fired the gun at him. He was standing the living room and it went through the wall at about adult head height, and ricocheted off the roof or the wall. And thank God it didn’t hit one of the kids.”
The police report states that Alexander claimed she “fired the weapon to scare” Gray, because he was “coming towards” her.
But Corey insists that “the idea that she fired a warning shot is absolutely not what the physical evidence showed.” Police retrieved a shell casing from the kitchen floor, the weapon, which was lying on the living room table, and they observed the bullet hole, which had gone through the kitchen wall and lodged in the ceiling.
A victim, and a ‘monster’
The outrage over Alexander’s prosecution, swift conviction — the jury was out for just under 13 minutes — and 20-year sentence, has revolved in large part around the negative perception of Gray, a man who admitted to past incidents of domestic violence, including a 2009 incident that put Alexander in the hospital after he shoved her into a bathtub, causing her to hit her head — Corey sees him as a victim, pure and simple, on that day.
“He was either prosecuted for that and there were restraining orders about that.” She emphasizes that both parties took out restraining orders against each other, and she adds, “that only becomes relevant as to whether he was endangering her at that moment.”
Corey says Alexander had no injuries consistent with abuse on that day. She said if she had, they would have been visible in her booking photo, or in the booking admission report when she was taken to the Duval County jail, “and that’s after the SWAT team had to respond to the house to get her to come outside.”
Lincoln Alexander has told theGrio the police never bothered to look for more evidence of Gray’s abuse, including what her family insists was a bathroom door damaged when Gray shoved Alexander into it.
But Corey is unimpressed.
“The bottom line is if he damaged a bathroom door … I know that my lawyers fully addressed issues such as that — and if the judge had believed that was the credible way things had happened, I believe the judge would have given that credence [in the Stand Your Ground hearing.] However, there’s no proof that that happened.”
And she insists that the law doesn’t distinguish between a victim with a history of violence, and one without one.
“A person’s propensity for violence is only one factor that would have allowed her to use
Stand Your Ground at the moment when she fired,” Corey said of Alexander. “If that’s what you’re saying, she can walk into a room and just see him and shoot. And what does it say about her fear of Rico Gray that she disobeyed a sitting judge and went over to confront him” four months after the incident — one that led Alexander to plead no contest to a domestic battery charge of her own. In that case, Corey said, Gray called 911 again, after Alexander “gave him a black eye.”
“I just don’t understand where just the one-sided story has come out,” Corey said, lashing out at both the media coverage, and the loud cries of unfairness on the radio and Internet.
The facts in the Alexander case are a matter of “he said, she said” — except that Gray’s account was initially backed up by his two sons, aged 9 and 13 at the time, for whom Alexander was also charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She was convicted of three counts — one against Gray and each son — even though Gray’s older son later changed his story, saying he was never in fear for his life as he first told police.
Corey says the son never corroborated Alexander’s version of events, but she does admit that his story changed, she says, even “after he had looked me in the eye and told me he was afraid.”
“And the bottom line is the other child never changed his story. So I still have a victim” who said he was in fear.
Corey said the assumption that her prosecutors failed to take Gray’s violent past with Alexander into account is false.
“She didn’t have to get 20 years, because I took into account their prior domestic history and her lack of a [criminal] record, and we offered her the three year mandatory minimum” in a plea bargain attempt before the trial. Corey said that offer was made last October, when she met with both Alexander and her attorney, Kevin Cobbin, and separately with Gray. As to why she never offered probation, Corey said that Alexander wasn’t a good candidate.
“She disobeyed a sitting judge” by going to Gray’s house to confront him again, four months after the initial incident while she was free on bail – an incident for which Alexander was arrested again and pleaded no contest to domestic assault. In that case, Corey says Alexander went to drop off their daughter, but wound up giving Alexander a black eye. “I was using my discretion to wave the statutory maximum, and offered her a three year [sentence] with credit for time served. Three years was for two reasons: one, she fired a gun inside a home at two children and Rico Gray, and [two,] she was not a candidate for probation because of her anger problems or whatever caused her to go over there again.”
And while her prosecutors handle these cases in court, Corey seems to have taken this one — and particularly the public reaction to it — personally.
“I just don’t understand the interest or outrage in this case,” she said. “Where is the interest in my two young, black victims, who don’t have a choice about who their dad marries — who can’t sit down and watch TV and play video games without a woman walking Into the home and firing a gun in their direction?”
And as for Gray, she said that while he may not be a sympathetic figure to the public, “neither are the drug dealers around here who get shot and killed. Whether they’re sympathetic or not, it’s not anybody’s right to take their life.”
“I looked at him and said he doesn’t seem to be this monster that the defense said he was.”
But Gray does, in many ways, fit the description of a monster. He outweighed Alexander by 100 pounds and is three inches taller. And besides his two arrests for domestic violence, there were his own statements in a deposition in Marissa’s case, in which he admitted, ”’I got five baby mammas, and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one,” that, “the way I was with women . . . they had to walk on eggshells around me.”
Two of those woman “got hit in the mouth” by Gray because in his own words, they “just wouldn’t shut up.”
On the night of August 1st, Gray admitted to prosecutors that he told Marissa he’d kill her if she ever cheated on him, and that on that night he said to her, “if I can’t have you, nobody going to have you.” He admitted he was “in a rage,” and said he told her that he knew people who could “do his dirt for him” — who could hurt her.
Gray said he blocked her from leaving the bathroom, and when asked if he pushed Alexander into the bathroom door hard enough to crack it, he answered, “probably.” Asked whether he put his hands around her neck, Gray answered “not that particular day.”
“I understand domestic situations are volatile, and they’re complicated,” said Corey.
“But the bottom line is she fired a loaded welcome directly at a man and his two sons and we cannot allow that as a way to solve domestic disputes.”
Still, there are questions about Gray’s version of events on the night that gun went off. In his November deposition, Gray said Alexander had the gun “down” when she re-entered the house from the locked garage, and that he “started walking towards her and she shot in the air.” He said she was telling him to leave the home, but that he refused, and that he called his children from the living room to “stand by him” because he wanted them to “see that she had a gun” — and he said he was so mad, that if his children weren’t there, he “couldn’t have left when she would have shot.” He said if they hadn’t been there, he probably would have tried to take the gun from her, and “put his hand on her.”
He also said the gun was never pointed at him.
Gray said in the deposition that he told police Alexander had threatened to kill him that night because he was angry, though he later changed his story again, saying he had lied in the deposition, in order to protect Marissa, and that he had feared for his life that day.
Double standard for male, female defendants
Corey remains certain about the prosecution. And she says people who are making judgments about the unfairness of the case are misguided.
“Is it more fair when a 31-year-old father discharges a firearm in anger [and gets 20 years in prison]? We deal with gun cases every day where that happens. No one’s done the research on the facts of this case. I don’t understand people who don’t do this for a living, [and] who don’t have a law degree weighing in with such a firm opinion. I don’t understand that. That’s why we try cases in a courtroom. Judges only hear evidence in a courtroom and they rule based on the facts of that case.”
Asked what she would say to people who lament Alexander’s children losing their mother, who won’t be there to see them grow up, the prosecutor is firm.
“Do they say that about men with little kids? I mean Rico Gray has custody of his two sons. And what I will say is if Marissa Alexander had obeyed the judge and not committed this second incident, there may have been a way to work this out, but she took that out of our hands. And then she took it out of our hands when she chose to go before a jury and they ruled that she discharged that firearm at three human beings.”
“If someone puts a gun to your head and takes your car, are we to forgive them because they didn’t hurt you, or are we going to deter people from committing gun crimes? Had that bullet deflected at another angle, someone could have been killed, and then who’s gonna explain that, if one of those children had been killed?”
Corey dismissed speculation that the Stand Your Ground law has been applied unfairly, making it unavailable as a defense for black defendants.
“We consider every case on its own merits, not on the race or gender of the defendant or the victim,” she said. “It’s not part of what we analyze when we’re filing cases. But I can tell you this, I have exercised my discretion in a number of cases for African-American defendants.”
She cited one case, in which an “older African-American gentleman pulled a gun on a much younger and much bigger African-American man.”
“I went ahead and asked that he be put on probation. These cases are public. They’re advertised when someone goes to trial. Where was your station when this case went to trial?”
“While we were in court at sentencing, a woman shot and killed her husband and turned the gun on herself, and then next day a woman stabbed her mother’s boyfriend over a pack of cigarettes. We can’t have guns used in domestic violence incidents and we certainly can’t have guns fired at children. And we can’t have a full blown trial … and then when [Alexander] didn’t get what she wanted form a jury, her family gets to go to the press, which inflames the entire country, because they only hear her side of the story. It’s fundamentally wrong for that to happen.”
While she said she couldn’t comment on the ongoing Zimmerman prosecution, Corey said she never anticipated the notoriety that would come from being associated with two such high profile cases.
“I am a courtroom prosecutor. I am a 30 year veteran prosecutor,” she said. “Homicides are my specialty. I want to run my office and I want to run my cases according to the law. And there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says the public has a right to have a trial by internet.”
Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport