Due to a recent court decision, Marissa Alexander of Florida, whose imprisonment outraged many across the country, may be looking at a possible tripling of her sentence if she’s convicted at a new trial for firing a “warning shot” at her abusive husband.
Many in the Black community applauded in September when an appeals court ruled Alexander is entitled to a new trial because the trial judge improperly instructed the jury on self-defense. Now it appears that the new trial may come back to haunt her.
The same court, the 1st District Court of Appeals, ruled that defendants who are convicted of multiple counts must serve consecutive rather than concurrent sentences. Since Alexander was convicted on three charges of aggravated assault, her 20-year sentence would be increased to 60 years if she were convicted again.
The Office of State Attorney Angela Corey confirmed it will try to put Alexander in prison for 60 years.
“Absent a plea agreement, if convicted as charged, the law of the state of Florida fixes the sentence,” Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei told the Florida Times-Union. “At this time, Ms. Alexander has rejected all efforts by the state to resolve the case short of trial.”
But the Free Marissa Now campaign condemned Corey’s office in a statement, claiming they believe she “has launched a campaign of escalating punishment of Marissa Alexander to shield herself from charges of mishandling trials and failing to secure guilty verdicts for the murders of Black teens, Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin.”
“A 60-year sentence for Marissa Alexander would not only be devastating for her, her children and family, and her community, it would be a decisive blow to the right to self defense for Black women and all women,” Free Marissa Now leader Aleta Alston-Toure said in the statement. “Incarcerating Marissa Alexander will send a strong message to all survivors that violence against them will be ignored, and they instead will be subject to prosecution if they defend their lives.”
On Aug. 1, 2010, just nine days after giving birth, Alexander went to the home she previously shared with her estranged husband Rico Gray to retrieve the rest of her clothes because she thought he was gone. Though they just had a baby together, Alexander, who worked for a payroll software company, had a restraining order against Gray.
The two had an argument and Alexander said she feared for her life, so she went to her vehicle to get the gun she legally owned, went back inside and ended up firing a shot into the wall, which ricocheted into the ceiling.
During the trial, Gray claimed that she was the aggressor, and that he had begged her to put away the weapon.
Alexander tried to use the “stand your ground” self-defense claim, but the trial judge threw it out, noting that Alexander could have run out of the house to escape her husband but instead retrieved the gun and went back inside. Prosecutors offered Alexander a plea deal that would have resulted in a three-year prison sentence, but Alexander chose to go to trial.
It took the jury just 12 minutes to convict her. During Alexander’s sentencing in May, Judge James Daniel said he had no choice but to sentence her to 20 years.
“Under the state’s 10-20-life law, a conviction for aggravated assault where a firearm has been discharged carries a minimum and maximum sentence of 20 years, without regarding to any extenuating or mitigating circumstances that may be present, such as those in this case,” Daniel said.
Last September, in a decision written by Judge Robert Benton of the 1st District Court of Appeal, the three-judge appellate panel ruled that Alexander deserved a new trial because the judge handling her case did not properly instruct the jury regarding what is needed to prove self-defense.
Benton said the instructions constituted a “fundamental error” by requiring Alexander to prove self-defense “beyond a reasonable doubt,” while in reality the prosecution had the burden to prove that Alexander herself was guilty of aggravated assault.
“Because the jury instructions on self-defense were fundamental error, we reverse” the conviction, the appellate panel said.
The Florida Legislature has begun considering legislation that would expand the state’s so-called “stand your ground” law to include warning shots, inspired by Alexander’s case.
But Florida Democratic State Rep. Kionne McGhee told Rev. Al Sharpton on PoliticsNation last week, it could open the door to more gun problems.
“This is one of those bills that on its face it looks like it’s there to help Marissa Alexander, but when you really dove into the language of the bill, you realize the bill is so vague that it’s going to lead us down a slippery slope,” he said.
“If you feel you are in danger, based on this particular language, you have the right to fire a gun into a home, into a vehicle or into a crowd,” he added.
Alexander’s new trial is set to begin July 28.