Marissa Alexander - Victim,Offender, or Both?

3 years ago


Marissa Alexander stood up for herself and she was sent to prison for it.

Well, the story is more complicated than that.  I'm not a supporter of stand your ground laws, but certainly, Marissa Alexander's story is that she was acting in self defense when she allegedly shot a gun in the air as a warning and to stop her abuser from attacking her.

The Florida resident was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced under Florida law to a mandatory sentence of 20 years.

A judge in a pre-trial hearing and a jury at trial found that Marissa Alexander did not qualify for immunity under Florida's  "Stand Your Ground Law".  This seems to be outrageous, but there are two sides to this story.

Marissa had a restraining order against her husband Rico Gray, but she had also become pregnant with his child, so she modified it.

One week after giving birth, Rico Gray came to their home while Marissa was present (the baby was still in the hospital).  Reportedly, after seeing photos of his new child on her phone, as well as text messages from her ex-husband,  he accused her of infidelity and questioned the paternity of her child. According to Marissa, he became threatening.  She locked herself in the bathroom and asked him to leave, he broke through the door and grabbed her by the neck, they struggled.  Marissa broke free, ran to the garage and tried to leave but the garage door wouldn't open.  She took her registered gun out of the glove compartment of her car and went back inside the house uncertain if Gray was still there, he was.   She did not leave the house through any other door.  She claims that when Gray saw the gun in her hand, he charged her and threatened to kill her.  She claims she raised the gun into the air and fired a warning shot.  He claimed that she was aiming the gun in the direction of him and his sons (her ten year twin old step-sons)  when she discharged the weapon.

At trial, Marissa offered the testimony of many witnesses who described Gray as violent man. They testified that they had seen the injuries Marissa sustained as a result of his beatings. She presented the testimony of an expert who opined that she had "Battered Women's Syndrome".

After all of the testimony was heard, the trial judge gave the jury instructions on the law.  The District Court of Appeals, First District reversed the conviction because the trial judge gave flawed jury instructions.

The judge instructed the jury that Marissa had to prove self defense beyond a reasonable doubt.   However, it is the prosecution that has to prove her guilty of assault with a deadly weapon beyond a reasonable doubt.  So this improper burden shifting required that the conviction be overturned.  (The jury deliberated for only 12 minutes before convicting her.)

The prosecutor could have dropped the case or opted for a new trial.  She's opted for a new trial.   That trial is scheduled for March 31, 2014.  On November 8, 2013, there will be a hearing to determine whether Marissa will be released on bail pending the new trial.

I support Marissa Alexander being released on bail especially since she has a small child with whom she should be able to bond unless or until she is proven guilty in a court of law.  I am disturbed, however, after reading the full decision of the District Court of Appeals - the concurring opinion lays out a set of facts that I have not seen in any of the many news reports in support of Marissa.

When the "stand your ground hearing" took place to determine whether Marissa might claim immunity from prosecution under that law, the judge put her findings of fact on the record.    Judges do sometimes do believe the wrong person and they do get facts wrong.  The new trial will likely draw more attention and all sides of the story will be told once again.  Some news accounts do provide more details than those I've seen recently and discuss the tragic unintended consequences of mandatory minimum sentences.

I hope there will be justice for Marissa Alexander and that she will get a fair trial with the proper procedures in place and I hope the champions of victims of domestic violence are not supporting the wrong person in this case.  I hope she was not a perpetrator as well as a victim. But when it comes to domestic violence, there are only victims.

Here are the judge's findings of fact:

On August 1, 2010, the Defendant shot at or near Rico Gray Sr. [and his two sons]. The Defendant had not been living in the marital home for the two months leading up to the shooting. On the evening of July 31, 2010, the Defendant drove herself to the marital home and parked in the garage, closing the garage door after parking her vehicle. The Defendant stayed the night in the marital home. The next morning, on August 1, 2010, Rico Gray Sr. arrived at the marital home with his two 10 year old sons and the children entered the home through the garage door. Rico Gray Sr. made the family breakfast and nothing went awry.

After breakfast, the Defendant went into the master bedroom. Before entering the bathroom, the Defendant handed her phone to Rico Gray Sr. to show him pictures of their newborn baby, who was still in the hospital. At that point, the Defendant went into the master bathroom while Rico Gray Sr. looked through the phone. While going through the phone, Rico Gray Sr. observed texts from the Defendant to her ex-husband Lincoln Alexander prompting Rico Gray Sr. to question whether the newborn baby was his. At this point, Rico Gray Sr. opened the bathroom door to confront the Defendant regarding the texts. A verbal argument ensued between the Defendant and Rico Gray Sr. For this reason, Rico Gray Sr. stepped out of the bathroom and yelled for his sons to put their shoes on because they were leaving. Rico Gray Sr. returned to the bathroom and demanded that the Defendant explain the texts and the verbal argument continued. During the verbal argument Rico Gray Sr. stood in the doorway to the bathroom and the Defendant could not get around him. Either Rico Gray Sr. moved from the doorway or the Defendant pushed around him to exit the bathroom.

Rico Gray Sr. moved to the living room where his children were. Subsequently, the Defendant emerged from the master bedroom and went into the garage where her car was parked. The Defendant testified she was trying to leave the residence but could not get the garage door to open. (The Court notes that despite the Defendant's claim she was in fear for her life at that point and trying to get away from Rico Gray she did not leave the house through the back or front doors which were unobstructed. Additionally, the garage door had worked previously and there was no evidence presented to support her claim.) The Defendant then retrieved her firearm from the glove box of the vehicle. The Defendant returned to the kitchen with the firearm in her hand and pointed it in the direction of all three Victims. Rico Gray Sr. put his hands in the air. The Defendant shot at Rico Gray Sr., nearly missing his head. The bullet traveled through the kitchen wall and into the ceiling in the living room. The Victims fled the residence and immediately called 911. The Defendant stayed in the marital home and at no point called 911. The Defendant was arrested on the date of the incident.

The Defendant posted bail prior to arraignment and was ordered by the Court and signed a document through Pretrial Services stating she was to have no contact with the Victims in the instant case. However, the Defendant continued to have contact with the Victims in this case, more specifically with Rico Gray Sr. Prior to Rico Gray Sr.'s deposition, the Defendant and Rico Gray Sr. discussed what he should say at deposition.

Shortly after Rico Gray Sr.'s deposition, the Defendant drove to Rico Gray Sr. 's new house where his two children were staying (not the Defendant's home). While there, the Defendant physically attacked Rico Gray Sr., causing injury to Rico Gray Sr.'s face. Again, Rico Gray Sr. immediately called 911 after the incident and the Defendant did not. The Defendant was arrested on new charges and her bond was revoked.

There is insufficient evidence that the Defendant reasonably believed deadly force was needed to prevent death or great bodily harm to herself, another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. During the date in question, the Defendant alleged that while in the bathroom Rico Gray Sr. pushed her, and the bathroom door hit her in the leg when it swung open. Per the Defendant's own testimony, she did not suffer serious bodily injury as a result of the altercation that took place in the bathroom. Further, after Rico Gray Sr. exited the master bedroom, the Defendant intentionally passed by the Victims and entered the garage where she immediately armed herself and proceeded back into the home. This is inconsistent with a person who is in genuine fear for his or her life.

After weighing the credibility of all witnesses and other evidence, this Court finds that the Defendant has not proved by a preponderance of the evidence that she was justified in using deadly force in defense of self. Hence, the Defendant has not met her burden of establishing her right to immunity as a matter of fact or law.

Marissa Alexander has a lot of support.

And I support her right to due process 100%.   I just hope she doesn't become an imperfect symbol for the cause.

But whatever happens, this case shows how bad mandatory minimum sentences can be, she was sentenced, as a first offender, to twenty years in prison for discharging a weapon in the course of a felony even though no one was hurt.  

Judges need to have discretion at sentencing.  

The legislative branch needs to stop taking that discretion away and let the independent branch of government - the judiciary - do it's job.

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