Bullying is a strong word – one with serious societal implications, from the tormenting of teenagers by peers, sometimes with tragic and deadly consequences, to the muscling of political opponents as we’re seeing unfold in the Chris Christie saga over the closing of three lanes of the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey. It can be a term too loosely applied, reducing its power.
But we are coming very close to the point when the word “bullying” might be applicable in the case of Marissa Alexander.
The 33-year-old Florida mother of three was released November 27th on $150,000 bond, after a judge threw out her conviction on three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm for firing a gun over the head of her husband, who she claimed threatened her, while his two sons were present in the room. The judge ruled that the jury was given improper instructions during the trial.
Alexander initially claimed self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute, but a judge threw out that claim. She was quickly convicted by a jury, and sentenced to a mandatory 20-year prison sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law.
The prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey, has been vigorous in pursuing and defending the conviction, and Alexander faces a retrial this spring.
Upon her release, Alexander was confined to home detention, under strict rules that limited when and under what circumstances she could leave her home. She was placed under the supervision of April Wilson, of the Duval County Sheriff’s Department, who was assigned to monitor Alexander’s home detention.
Then on Monday, Corey’s office filed a motion with the court asking for Alexander’s bond to be revoked, and for Alexander to be returned to jail. Her offense: running errands. (A hearing was held on that motion this morning.)
According to the state’s motion:
“Defendant was given a series of special conditions, which the court called ‘stringent,’ most notably including the provision that Defendant … “remain on home detention …. And will not be allowed to leave her residence except for court appearances, medical emergencies, and to satisfy any requirements “ of her pretrial services programs (such as providing a drug test).
(2) Beginning December 6, 2013 (mere days after being released), and continuing on multiple dates ) … Defendant repeatedly flouted the above-referenced conditions. She did so in order to … go shopping for clothes; ferry family members to and from such places as the hair shop and airport; visit the bank; collect funds to give to her bond agent/ get estimates for getting her vehicle repaired; get new glasses; get a new driver’s license; and travel to the office of a former attorney. During one such sojourn, Defendant went to the residence of the brother of the victim in this case. Defendant neither sought nor obtained permission from the Court for any of the above.” (Emphases included in original]
Alexander’s attorney, Bruce Zimet, filed a motion in response, asserting that in every instance where Alexander left her home, she sought and received the permission of her Corrections Services Counselor, 17-year Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office employee April Wilson. The attorney’s motion pointed out that the state failed to mention Wilson’s permissions in their original motion, despite being fully aware of them.
The state’s response: such permission is insufficient. In their response to Zimet’s motion, Corey’s office stated that the case officer is no substitute for the court itself.
The judge at a hearing today disagreed, saying: “This was not a willful violation. It was a mistake and mistakes happen.” Circuit Judge James Daniel declared Alexander free to go back home, where she will remain under house arrest until her new trial, scheduled for March 31st. And he admonished the sheriff’s department to run a tighter ship.
Marissa Alexander spent more than 1,000 days in prison prior to her release shortly after Thanksgiving. It’s not inconceivable to think that having obtained her freedom, albeit temporarily, since no one can predict the outcome of a second trial, that she hoped to regain some aspect of normalcy, like getting a new pair of glasses. She didn’t waltz out of her house without notifying the person appointed by the sheriff’s department to supervise her. She asked permission each time. And April Wilson testified in today’s hearing that in her 17 years as a sheriff’s department supervisor, her authority had never been called into question.
Until Marissa Alexander. And until Angela Corey.