Florida Wants to Put Black Woman in Prison for 60 years for Firing Warning Shot in Self Defense
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
A Florida woman who won a retrial after being sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a “warning shot” in the direction of her violent husband has been told that her jail term could be tripled if she is convicted again.
Marissa Alexander could be sent to prison for a minimum of 60 years if she is found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault at her second trial in Jacksonville in July, after state prosecutors confirmed they would seek for the sentences to be served consecutively.
Activists from the Free Marissa Now advocacy group, which has campaigned for the release of Alexander, 33, and raised money for her legal costs, described the move as a “stunning abuse of power” by the state attorney, Angela Corey.
“When Marissa Alexander fired her warning shot to save her own life, she caused no injuries. Now she’s facing the very real possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison for that act of self-defence,” Sumayya Fire, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a statement.
“That should send a chill down the back of every person in this country who believes that women who are attacked have the right to defend themselves.”
Prosecutors said they were merely following directions from state authorities. An appeals court in Tallahassee ruled last year that when convicting a defendant of multiple counts of the same crime under the state’s “10-20-life” mandatory minimum sentencing rules on gun crime, judges must make the sentences consecutive.
“Absent a plea agreement, if convicted as charged, the law of the State of Florida fixes the sentence,” Richard Mantei, one of Corey’s assistant state attorneys, told the Florida Times-Union. “At this time, Ms Alexander has rejected all efforts by the State to resolve the case short of trial.”
Alexander was sentenced in 2012 to three concurrent 20-year prison terms, after being convicted of assaulting her estranged husband, Rico Gray, at the couple’s home in August 2010.
She claimed she had acted out of fear for her life during a beating from Gray, after an argument in which he alleged that she had been unfaithful and that the baby to whom she had given birth days earlier was fathered by another man.
Alexander said that after fleeing into the garage she found herself unable to escape, because the garage door was locked, so she retrieved her gun, which she owned legally, from her car. She then returned to the house and fired a shot in the direction of Gray and two of his children from a previous relationship.
She said he had charged at her and threatened to kill her, and that it was a warning shot, which prosecutors disputed. The shot went through a wall and ended up in the ceiling, and nobody was injured.
Alexander was denied immunity under Florida’s stand-your-ground law, which states that someone is justified in using deadly force and “does not have a duty to retreat” if he or she believes that “such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm”.
However, after serving 19 months she was freed in November last year, when an appeals court ruled that the judge in her first trial, James Daniel, had incorrectly told the jury it was up to Alexander to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she was beaten by her husband.
Supporters of Alexander allege that Corey is inflicting a “campaign of escalating punishment” after failing to secure guilty verdicts in the murder trials of the men who shot dead the black Florida teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.
“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,” said Aleta Alston-Toure’, a leader of the Free Marissa Now group.