By Subhash Kateel
While Florida is still raw from the death of Trayvon Martin, a new incident of injustice may be unfolding a few hours away in Jacksonville, Florida, the home district of Angela Corey, the “special” prosecutor in Trayvon’s case. In a slight twist of irony, the “stand your ground” (or more properly ” Justifiable Use of Force”) statutes are also being invoked in this case, except by an alleged victim of domestic violence that says she was defending herself against an abusive husband.
Her name is Marissa Alexander. As we speak, she sits in a jail cell in Jacksonville awaiting a potential sentence of 20 years in prison for what she claims was self-defense. However, unlike the Trayvon Martin case or almost any other case that would elicit a 20-year sentence, Marissa didn’t kill anyone or even hurt anyone. She seems to have simply fired a weapon into the air in what we commonly know as a “warning shot” to repel her husband. But that didn’t stop a jury in Jacksonville from convicting her of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Marissa Alexander is now 31 years old and a mother of three. On August 1, 2010, she had just given birth to a premature baby. While the baby was still in the hospital, she was embroiled in a heated argument with her husband, a man she claims abused her several times, even during her pregnancy. As told by her ex-husband and current advocate Lincoln Alexander on our show , her husband physically confronted her while she was in the bathroom. While in the bathroom, her husband also reportedly threw a cellphone at her. Marissa then attempted to leave the house through the garage, when the garage door wouldn’t open, she took a legally owned gun from her car’s glove compartment and went back upstairs.
When she went upstairs, she was face to face with her husband and two of his children. When police arrived on the scene, Marissa’s husband claimed that Marissa pointed her gun at him and his children. Marissa’s family contends that her husband lunged at her saying, “I am going to kill you.” At that point, Marissa fired a warning shot into the ceiling, an action that caused her husband to leave the house. Two points are not in dispute, Marissa never fired more than one shot and no one was injured in the incident.
Beyond this, the media, even those sympathetic to the case, have focused more on the “Stand your ground” and “he said/she said” aspects of the case and have largely ignored the most damning piece of evidence: a November 22, 2010 sworn deposition from Marissa’s husband/”crime victim”/alleged abuser (found here or here ). In the 66-page document, he not only admits to abusing her at least five times, he also affirms that Marissa never pointed the gun at him or his children and that he did indeed walk toward her, while “cursing,” before she shot in the air. Some of the most chilling admissions from her husband are made on page 36 in reference to his state of mind during their August 1, 2010 encounter:
“…I just don’t know what would have happened. If my kids wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have put my hands on her.”
“Probably hit her. I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one.”
“I physically abused them; physically, emotionally, you know, it’s like…Me, the way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking…or what I might do…hit them, push them.”
It is unclear to those of us newly acquainted with the case whether or not a jury ever heard or read those words from the deposition. It is also unclear if her husband ever recanted those statements. But even for legal minds that acquired their knowledge through watching “law and order,” it does seem clear that her husband’s admissions raise enough reasonable doubt that she did nothing wrong. If you look at Florida’s “Justifiable Force” (what is now know as “stand your ground”) statutes, the intro basically says it all:
“776.012 A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force.”
Judging by her husband’s own statements, he believed he had the potential to use “imminent force” against Marissa in her own home that day. According to the law Marissa had every right to be in her own home, and therefore had no “duty to retreat.” For some reason, the jury chose to convict her and on Monday she may be sentenced to some serious time in prison. According to some lawyers following the case , the punishment for her crime, which amounts to deadly assault on ceiling paint, is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison!
It is not insignificant that the prosecutors in this case work under the supervision of Angela Corey, the “special” prosecutor in Trayvon Martin’s case. The fact that she has received a decent amount of praise for her role in that case presents an even more puzzling picture of the role her office has played in the prosecution of Marissa Alexander.
But Marissa’s family and her supportive ex-husband/advocate/friend have ensured that this case receives more attention. Currently, there is a Change.org petition for her circulating around the country. On Wednesday, her family hit the airwaves, winning the attention of Michael Baisden (and by extension, Al Sharpton) , even making a pit stop on my show. For those of us that watched Trayvon Martin’s case closely, this case deserves the same amount of scrutiny, thoughts and action. It is up to us collectively to ensure that laws do not victimize the very people we are told they are made to protect.