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Marissa Alexander given 20 years for a warning shot against an abuser

July 5, 2012

by Minister of Information JR

Marissa Alexander
On May 11, 2012, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison, because she fired a warning shot to halt her abusive husband from trying to kill her. In her defense, her lawyers cited the Florida “stand your ground” law, which months earlier made national headlines when it was cited by George Zimmerman’s defense team, after he killed unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin after stalking him months earlier in the state. I recently talked to Marissa Alexander’s lawyer, Kevin Cobbin, so that we can get the details of what happened in her case.

M.O.I. JR: Who is Marissa Alexander and what is her relevance to law in the United States?

Kevin: Briefly Marissa Alexander is a 30-year-old mother of three, two 11-year-old twins and an almost 2-year old-daughter. She was involved in a domestic violent relationship. She had been abused for several years by her husband. This abuse put her in the hospital. She had been strangled several times; she had to leave the house several times and escape with family.

On this particular instance, a few days after she had given birth to her youngest daughter, the abusive husband in a jealous rage over a text message where she sent pictures to family, an ex-husband, and her children, again attacked her, strangled her and threw her against the wall in the presence of his two young sons; one who is 10 and one who is 13.

And Mrs. Alexander was able to get away; however, she was trapped in her garage. She could not get out of the house; she retrieved a gun for protection. The abusive husband said that he was going to kill her. He charged at her again from very close range, and she fired one shot in an upward direction, and because of that she was charged with three counts of aggravated assault here in Jacksonville, Florida.

And that charge carried with it an enhancement that could have someone serve 20 years mandatory in prison. And that’s what she was charged with by the State Attorney’s Office and eventually convicted of. She tried to argue that she was “standing her ground,” which is a law that protects people against attackers inside their homes and outside their home, but the judge did not grant her motion. And therefore she is now serving 20 years. The case is under appeal.

The abusive husband said that he was going to kill her. He charged at her again from very close range, and she fired one shot in an upward direction, and because of that she was charged with three counts of aggravated assault here in Jacksonville, Florida.

M.O.I. JR: Before we talk more about Marissa Alexander, let’s talk about another case that has made national headlines in Florida, and that is the case of Trayvon Martin. What is the relationship between the cases of Marissa Alexander and Trayvon Martin?

Kevin: Well, I think that the importance of the contrast in the two cases is that they have a direct, almost opposite side of the sphere. We believe that Mrs. Alexander was in her home, protecting herself against domestic abuse. We have another instance where it appears that Mr. Zimmerman followed or approached Trayvon Martin out on the streets, an altercation took place, and that’s when the murder took place.

So you almost have two totally different circumstances, one in the house and one on the street, but “the stand your ground law” here in Florida is so vague and so ambiguous, that the courts have not figured out who the law is supposed to protect. Does it protect people like Zimmerman, who looks like an instigator and may have gotten into a fight? Or is it supposed to protect people like Mrs. Alexander, who was in the sanctity of her home and is being abused?

And the courts are having a terrible time of doing that. There are cases where people are chasing people down the street stabbing them, killing them, and they’re getting “stand your ground” protection. And people are getting abused and beaten in their own homes and they try to fight back, and they are not getting it. So the law is not working here in Florida.

M.O.I. JR: When exactly did Marissa Alexander get convicted? How long ago was that?

Kevin: She was convicted a few months back. After the conviction, we tried to ask the courts for a new trial based on some evidence that we believe that the court improperly kept out and did not let the jury hear. The court ultimately denied that motion and now the case is being appealed by attorney Mike Dodd. He’s handling that appeal process. She is currently being held in Florida State Prison.

There are cases where people are chasing people down the street stabbing them, killing them, and they’re getting “stand your ground” protection. And people are getting abused and beaten in their own homes and they try to fight back, and they are not getting it. So the law is not working here in Florida.

M.O.I. JR: What is the new evidence that you wanted to enter into the case?

Kevin: Well, there was some evidence of the abusive husband’s reputation of violence in the community from an ex-wife and his last girlfriend. There also was some new evidence that was discovered. His son actually testified on behalf of Mrs. Alexander and corroborated her story. The son’s testimony was not known at the time of the “stand your ground” hearing.

So we believe that that should have allowed the court to go back and review the “stand your ground” hearing and then rule in her favor, because then you would have had basically every witness that testified, testifying that she was defending herself against his abuse, because he himself had said in several depositions before that he has beat every woman that he has had a child with, except for one, acknowledging she was in fear. He kept her in fear and abused her several times.

M.O.I. JR: What kind of precedent does this set statewide in Florida and nationally in the United States if this is allowed to stand?

Kevin: Well, what it does immediately is it tells women who are in these battered relationships, who are often times scared to tell anybody and are trapped in these kinds of relationships, whether it be to a husband, a boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend, that basically if you try to defend yourself, the court is not going to protect you. They are going to turn around and they’re going to protect the abuser.

I think that sends a terrible message. We here in Jacksonville, after we heard the ruling in Mrs. Alexander’s case, have had three women that have been killed by their abuser when there’s been a history of abuse. These women have all been killed – two of them in front of their children.

We send a terrible message to the abuser, that hey, the State Attorney’s Office and the courts are going to protect you. And now we are going to have to deal with those consequences until we go back and say that’s not how it’s going to work. We need to protect those that need to be protected, that’s the reason why we created the law, and we need to uphold those laws because they do protect those who are involved with situations.

It tells women who are in these battered relationships, who are often times scared to tell anybody and are trapped in these kinds of relationships, whether it be to a husband, a boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend, that basically if you try to defend yourself, the court is not going to protect you.

M.O.I. JR: I know that there are a number of rallies planned in defense of Mrs. Marissa Alexander. What is the goal and the aim?

Kevin: Well, we have had several rallies and demonstrations. I know that this Sunday there was a motorcycle rally, raising some funds for her legal defense, the appeals process, and to raise awareness. I know that there’s the NAACP and U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown have planned a major rally, which is going to take place I believe on the 12th of July here in Jacksonville.

And the major focus is that we want to make sure that people don’t forget Mrs. Alexander. We believe that this a terrible injustice that has been done and that we’re not going to give up. Her family is leading the charge at any demonstrations. The community is behind her very strongly.

But we also wanted to let the legislature here in Florida to know, because they have the ability to change not just the “stand your ground” but also to rule that the “1020 Life Law,” the minimum mandatory sentence law that we have here in Florida, that the public does not agree with it and wants it changed. We just had a case that was ruled on yesterday where a man in a similar situation as Mrs. Alexander, a 74-year-old man, who was given 20 years.

The courts came back and reversed his. And we hope that because of the attention and the injustice that the community is starting to see is going on, and we hope that Mrs. Alexander can benefit from this outpouring as well as others who have been harmed by these laws who are serving time in prison.

And the major focus is that we want to make sure that people don’t forget Mrs. Alexander. We believe that this a terrible injustice that has been done and that we’re not going to give up. Her family is leading the charge at any demonstrations. The community is behind her very strongly.

M.O.I. JR: You just alluded to the mandatory minimum sentencing law. Tell people what is the mandatory minimum law, and why are the people of Jacksonville, Florida, so against it?

Kevin: Well, the mandatory minimum law that we have here in Florida is called “1020 Life” and that’s the one that deals with guns, and that’s the one that we have in this case. If a person commits a crime and they display a gun, they’re given a mandatory 10 years prison, without any credit time, good or gain time. If a person discharges that weapon, they get 20 years, and if a bullet hits somebody from that weapon, then it’s 25 to life.

Now the federal courts have already ruled that mandatory minimum sentences are unconstitutional in the federal system, but the state courts have not done that in Florida. And so we have individuals like Mrs. Alexander and others who have never been convicted of a crime before in their lives, who are subject to the 20-year mandatory sentences, and give the judge no discretion, who’s heard all of the facts, to then make a ruling as to what a just and proper sentence would be.

It gives the State Attorney’s Office sole discretion here in Jacksonville and other places across the state and across the country. There are people who believe that this is absolutely improper. The judges have heard the trial, they’ve heard the evidence, they’ve heard the mitigation; why are they not the ones who are allowed to then decide what a just and proper sentence is?

M.O.I. JR: Let’s go a little bit farther down the rabbit hole: What has the effect of the mandatory minimum law been on the Black community statewide in Florida, but also nationwide?

Kevin: It’s been devastating. The proponents of it would argue that we’ve reduced crime, and the crime rate is down; that’s their argument. But what they’ve done is take individuals who are first time offenders, on many occasions individuals who have never been in trouble before, who make one bad decision, no matter how severe the decision is, and basically says that we’re going to send you to prison for the rest of your life or so long that you basically don’t exist anymore.

We’re having juveniles and young Black males and females who are being sent away for 50, 60 or 70 years under mandatory minimum sentences. They’re wiping out a whole generation of young Black males mainly, but now it’s starting to be young Black females.

M.O.I. JR: Marissa Alexander was given 20 years for firing a warning shot at the ceiling, when she was in fear of an abusive husband. What is it that people can do to assist you in the battle to free Marissa Alexander, as well as to attack the “stand your ground” law as well as the “mandatory minimum sentencing law”?

Kevin: A website has been going for some time now, justiceformarissa.com, where the family is asking people to read for themselves. Read about the facts in the case. Read some letters from Marissa Alexander, as well as supporters. You got to get your own take on what you believe.

There’s also some information on there that gives you links to the state attorney’s argument. They have a different argument; they believe that she was an angry individual. But I believe that if people read the facts and hear the circumstances, they’ll believe that Mrs. Alexander was defending herself.

We urge everybody, if there’s laws in your community that are similar to the “stand your ground” or to the “10-20 Life” or to any mandatory minimum sentence, to reach out to your local politicians, your legislators, and tell them that you want these laws changed. Find out the effect that its having on your community, because I believe that if people look, they’ll find out that their neighbors, church members, people that they have went to school with, people that they work with, have all been affected by these harsh and what we believe are unconstitutional laws.

And if people see this, and it is really touching them, then I think that they will be compelled to reach out and help people like Mrs. Alexander and to help others that are in these situations, because it is not right.

I will continue to fight for her, as long as I’m a lawyer. The NAACP, the churches and the local community are all going to continue to fight for her. Mrs. Alexander is getting support from everybody. This is not just NAACP and lawyers; she’s getting support from everybody – from students, from student organizations, from politicians on the Democrat and Republican sides.

We urge everybody, if there’s laws in your community that are similar to the “stand your ground” or to the “10-20 Life” or to any mandatory minimum sentence, to reach out to your local politicians, your legislators, and tell them that you want these laws changed.

People from all over the country have reached out, we’ve gotten letters from state attorneys in other states who believe that this is an injustice. I believe that everyone can see that this is not right, and we’re going to continue to fight until something is done about it.

The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

 

7 thoughts on “Marissa Alexander given 20 years for a warning shot against an abuser

  1. Barry

    20 years for no one getting hurt and stopping someone from harming you while a man got 10 years for kidnapping raping then burning the woman alive in a car. WTF United States?

    Reply
  2. Poetik

    This is just sad how the system is so flawed. It is constructed for people to fail and those who do not educate themselves on that, always wind up on the wrong side of the fence; unfortunately. George Zimmerman followed that young boy and shot him because of racial profiling and he was given bond at least 3xs [or twice] on a murder rap. This state of Florida is still stuck in the racial times that we have endured since the segregation (by law) ended. Stand your Ground and 1020Life are both unconstitutional because both laws do not give the probability of justifiable actions. This leaves women like Marissa thrown under the bus for some bullsh-t law that only works for the criminal. This is just sad how the system is so flawed. It is constructed for people to fail and those who do not educate themselves on that, always wind up on the wrong side of the fence.

    Reply
  3. Poetik

    There is no justice for either Trayvon or Marissa. We as a race must unite like we did before, and stand for the same rights our ancestors fought for and make a change. Gays/Lesbians are fighting for their rights and are succeeding because they have united. We as blacks must change. Stop carrying ourselves as these ghetto stereotypes we always tend to give right back to those who oppose the mere image of our beautiful race. We have to stand tall against the system.

    Reply
  4. Poetik

    The United States had to free our race in 1865 so that they can still control us, but not be obvious. They made us equal but not equal because of our color. They created HIV/AIDS to control population count on our race. [Ever realize they say alotta infections etc begins in Africa? Why is Europe/Asia/Canada etc always in the clear?][EVERYTHING ELSE THEY BLAME ON THE GAYS]. They don’t like us and never will until we FIGHT. Read a damn book and be smarter than the teachers that only teach to get paid. Don’t stand for the pledge, that sh-t is not for us. Don’t celebrate Independence Day; we weren’t even freed till 1865 and its 2012 and we are still bond by the shackles of opinionated based laws & more. Wake up got dammit (petty Greene’s voice) & CHANGE

    Reply
  5. Mikado

    This article presents only Marissa's claims, not the forensic evidence that contradicts those claims, or that the jury did not believe her or Rico. Read the denial of the motion to dismiss from the stand your ground hearing and ask yourself why the author of this article only told you Marissa's story. Twenty years is extreme, but she was not eligible for less than the 3 year plea she was offered and refused because she violated the terms of her bond and met with Rico to discuss his testimony.

    Reply
  6. Jim

    Why does everything done against a person of color have to be racially biased? I believe the reason blacks have such "racial inequality" is they bring it on themselves by playing the race card EVERY TIME. How about you try just being HUMAN and stop looking at everything with black or white eyes?

    Reply

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