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July 16, 2013

Familiarize Yourself With The Marissa Alexander Case Before The Media Misinforms You

In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, many media outlets have erroneously focused on Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which was never invoked by the defense. In fact, Zimmerman declined the opportunity to seek a Stand Your Ground hearing earlier this year. Reason explains:

The initial decision not to arrest Zimmerman, former Sanford, Florida, Police Chief Bill Lee said last week (as paraphrased by CNN), "had nothing to do with Florida's controversial 'Stand Your Ground' law" because "from an investigative standpoint, it was purely a matter of self-defense." And as The New York Times explained last month, "Florida's Stand Your Ground law...has not been invoked in this case." The only context in which "stand your ground" was mentioned during the trial was as part of the prosecution's attempt to undermine Zimmerman's credibility by arguing that he lied when he told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he had not heard of the law until after the shooting. During his rebuttal on Friday, prosecutor John Guy declared, "This case is not about standing your ground."
This discussion of Stand Your Ground has allowed to the media to revive the story of Marissa Alexander, a black woman from Jacksonville, Florida who "only fired a warning shot trying to protect herself from an abusive husband" and who unsuccessfully tried to invoke the law in her defense. They're attempting to show that the law does not protect blacks as it does whites, but the case has almost nothing in common with Zimmerman's and the reporting of the Alexander story has been wildly inaccurate. Take it away, Think Progress:
But just months after Trayvon’s death, Florida’s notorious Stand Your Ground law did not spare Marissa Alexander, who fired a mere warning shot into the wall during a violent incident with her husband.

Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year, after a judge rejected her Stand Your Ground defense and a jury convicted her on three counts of aggravated assault.

Taken at face value, this would be an absolutely offensive sentencing. But, this account (and many more like them) is not what actually happened.

Alexander claims she felt her life was at risk, but she left the house and went into the garage, retrieved a handgun from her car and returned to the kitchen where her husband (Rico Gray) and his two children were located. Stand Your Ground does not require that you attempt to flee, but she already had. At this point, it no longer applied. She then fired the "mere warning shot", which in many accounts was aimed at the ceiling, but the court documents indicate "barely missed Gray's head". Here is the relevant part of the court document:

[Gray] moved to the living room where his children were. Subsequently, [Alexander] emerged from the master bedroom and went into the garage where her car was parked. [Alexander] testified she was trying to leave the residence but could not get the garage door to open. (The Court notes that despite [Alexander's] claim she was in fear for her life at that point and trying to get away from [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 to support her claim.) [Alexander] then retrieved her firearm from the glove box of the vehicle. [Alexander] returned to the kitchen with the firearm in her hand and pointed it in the direction of all three victims. [Gray] put his hands in the air. [Alexander] shot at [Gray], barely 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. [Alexander] stayed in the marital home and at no point called 911.
Well that's a whole different story, isn't it? It should also be noted that Alexander wasn't even living in the house at the time, as she and Gray had separated. Sean Davis over at Media Trackers has a much more detailed account of the case. I've been seeing the case start to gain more attention recently, so it's important to get the facts right before the media tries to turn it into another drummed up racial discrimination story. Definitely give it a read.

The real outrage here is Florida's 10-20-Life mandatory minimum law, which essentially gives prosecutors (like the detestable Angela Corey) power to act as both prosecutor and judge. As soon as Alexander discharged her weapon, it immediately became a 20 year minimum sentence since it was used in an aggravated assault. The judge's hands were tied. The law does not include a first time offender exemption and includes more absurdities like this:

The "10-20-Life" statutes exclude manslaughter from any minimum sentencing requirements, Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel confirmed. That means if Alexander had actually killed her husband or one of his sons and been found guilty of manslaughter, she could have instead gotten as little as time served. Caliel said manslaughter should be added into the statutes.
Since Florida has tied firearms to minimum sentencing laws, the real reason Marissa Alexander will sit in a jail cell for the next 20 years is because of gun control legislation, whether the media wants to admit it or not.

Update: Melissa Harris-Perry butchers the story this weekend.

digg this
posted by JohnE. at 01:46 PM

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