Marissa Alexander is a 31 year old mother of three is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in a Florida prison for discharging her firearm into the ceiling of her home to ward off further abuse at the hands of her husband, Rico Gray. Mr. Gray had just assaulted Marissa and was at her home in violation of an order for protection. Marissa is scheduled for sentencing on Friday, May 11, 2012 at the Duval County Courthouse, Jacksonville, Florida, Judge James Daniel presiding.
It was August 1, 2010 when Marissa Alexander was assaulted and choked in the bathroom of her home by her husband, Rico Gray. After being battered, she attempted to flee and ran into the garage but was unable to drive out due to a malfunction of the garage door. She got her gun and reentered the home where her husband continued his threats to kill her. She fired a shot into the ceiling and he fled the home, along with his two sons, and then called police. Though Marissa suffered injury, she was arrested first and then taken to the hospital for treatment. Her husband, who has a documented history of battering women, admitted to abusing Marissa and several other women in separate relationships.
State attorney, Angela Corey, charged Marissa with 3 counts of aggravated assault without intent to harm. She offered Marissa a plea of 3 years which Marissa rejected for she felt she did nothing wrong. Initially, she was offered time served by one of the prosecuting attorneys so she believed that she would be exonerated of this offense. The jury of 3 males and 3 females deliberated for only 12 minutes before rendering their guilty verdict. In the state of Florida, with unusually cruel and harsh mandatory minimum sentencing statutes in place, this conviction carries 20 years minimum. If sentenced on Friday, May 11, 2012, Marissa will be the victim of one of Florida’s most indiscriminate, disproportionate, incongruent sentencing statutes that contains no flexibility for a judge’s discretion.
Marissa’s first judge, Judge Senterfeit, ruled that “Stand Your Ground” does not apply in this case because she felt that Marissa was not in fear of her life and could have found other means of escape. Her successor, Judge James Daniel, chose not to challenge the decision of his judicial predecessor.
The attorney of record, Kevin Cobbin, filed several motions to present the errors of Marissa’s trial. Judge Daniel denied these motions but gave consideration to the fact that Mr. Gray’s oldest son testified that he had no fear that Marissa would harm him. However, this testimony would alter only the charge, reducing it to two counts of aggravated assault without intent to harm, but would not effect the sentence. On May 3, 2011, a number of supporters filed out of the courtroom feeling the pains of convoluted justice.
Marissa had been a victim of documented, repeated abuse. She was battered during the last trimester of her pregnancy, gave birth prematurely 9 days prior to her arrest and has not seen her baby since February 2011. She sought counseling prior to this incident in an effort to free herself of this cycle of abuse which only becomes more intense and dangerous over time without intervention. Marissa had enough and when she walked back into her home with that gun she had no intent to kill or maim anyone although she had every opportunity to do so. She had just given birth, was dealing with post partum hormonal issues, feeling the pain of the beating she received just moments earlier and was in fear of her life, having experienced beatings that required hospitalization at the hands of Mr. Gray.
Prison should be a place for those who are a menace to society. It is not designed for people like Marissa. Justice is not served by locking Marissa away for 20 years. And she’d have no hope of parole since parole went away in Florida in 1983. Locking her away causes irreparable harm to her children and those she loves and sends a somber message to other victims of domestic violence that may result in serious consequences.
This case has gained the Nation’s attention and rightfully so. Her first husband, Lincoln Bernard, started a petition on her behalf which brought visibility to this case and jump-started the campaign to demand justice for Marissa. Protests are being held, prayers raised, marches organized, media venues flooded and the courtroom filled to capacity to assure Marissa that she does not sit atop her mountain alone.