I’ve been wondering about the conviction of Marissa Alexander in Florida, as she got 20 years in what seemed from the headlines like a matter of self-defense. However, this article — No, Marissa Alexander’s Conviction Was Not a “Reverse Trayvon Martin” Case in Florida — strongly suggests that her actions were aggressive, not defensive.
In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, many media outlets have focused their attention on Marissa Alexander, an African-American woman in Florida who unsuccessfully asserted a so-called “Stand Your Ground” defense in 2011 and is now serving a prison sentence of 20 years on multiple accounts of aggravated assault with a firearm. Although those media outlets, and many local politicians like U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), have suggested that Marissa Alexander got a raw deal compared to George Zimmerman, who was acquitted, the actual facts in the two cases bear little resemblance.
At first glance, the two cases share many superficial similarities. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, claimed self-defense after fatally shooting a young African-American man who had punched him several times. After firing what she says was a warning shot near the head of her abusive husband, Alexander claimed she was only trying to protect herself from another attack. In both cases, controversial state prosecutor Angela Corey led the charge against the gun owners who claimed self defense. And in both cases, professional race hustlers rushed to television cameras to claim that race was a primary factor preventing justice from being served.
“Why did Marissa Alexander get a 20-year sentence despite invoking ‘Stand Your Ground’?” MSNBC asked shortly after the Zimmerman verdict of not guilty was announced..
“For Black People and Women, Very Little Ground Left to Stand On,” a Gawker headline blared on Sunday afternoon.
“When Marissa Alexander was charged with firing a gun in front of her allegedly abusive husband, she tried to use Florida’s Stand Your Ground law as a defense — just like George Zimmerman,” BuzzFeed wrote in 2012. “But for her it didn’t work. Now some are asking if her case is a ‘reverse Trayvon’ situation.”
A closer examination of the facts in Marissa Alexander’s case, however, reveals why a judge rejected Alexander’s pre-trial “Stand Your Ground” defense — a specific defense under Florida law that George Zimmerman never asserted — and why a jury eventually convicted her on multiple charges, resulting in a mandatory prison sentence of at least 20 years. If Alexander’s case suggests a failure of the legal system to mete out appropriate justice, then the problem lies with Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, not with the state’s self-defense laws.
Here’s the critical bit of analysis:
First, although she had ample opportunity to exercise non-lethal options when she claimed to believe her life was at risk — exiting through the front door, back door, or garage — Alexander chose to remain in the home. She later claimed that the garage door was broken, eliminating her ability to leave when she initially entered the garage, but officers found no evidence to suggest that it was not working.
Second, Alexander’s claim that she fired only a warning shot, as opposed to firing at Gray and merely missing, also rings somewhat hollow. Her claim that she fired a warning shot, instead of a shot at center mass to stop the aggressor’s attack, suggests that she did not believe that deadly force was actually necessary.
Third, the fact that Alexander never called the police after the incident also suggests that she did not reasonably fear for her life. A victim of a near fatal attack would almost certainly alert authorities so that they might apprehend the attacker.
Fourth, the fact that Alexander voluntarily returned to Gray’s home repeatedly after the incident — against explicit court orders which Alexander promised to obey — also suggests that she may not have actually feared for her life when she fired at Gray.
Fifth, and finally, Alexander’s behavior before and after her arrest in December of 2010 — while she was still awaiting trial for the previous incident — also calls into question whether she actually believed the use of deadly force was necessary to defend herself from Gray in August of 2010. Alexander never called police (in both the August and December encounters, it was Gray or his children who contacted the police) and initially lied about even being present at Gray’s home.
Given Alexander’s behavior and interactions with Gray in the months following her initial arrest, it is not difficult to see why both a judge and a jury may have been skeptical of her claim that the use of deadly force was reasonable and that no other options were available.
Interested? Go read the whole article!