By Subhash Kateel
In has been over a week since Marissa Alexander, a mother of three, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault after firing a gun into a wall that hurt no one in what she claimed was an attempt to defend herself against an abusive husband. Since the sentencing last Friday, the prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey and her star witness/Marissa’s allegedly abusive husband, Rico Gray, have been on a virtual speaking tour telling their sides of the story, sometimes together.
While Angela Corey, who is also the prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case, reached out to several press outlets (including ours) in the past few weeks, I believe that her and Rico Gray’s statements to the press, this week in particular, have been marked by inaccuracies, distortions of truth and blatant lies. Here are a few of them.
1. Marissa “shot a gun at” or "discharged a gun to kill” her husband and his children the day she was arrested.
This week, Angela Corey’s office shifted from merely having a different take on the facts than Marissa Alexander to straight out lying about those facts. In a recent interview she gave to CBS news, she stated:
"She [Marissa] discharged a gun to kill them, [her husband and his children] and she has to answer for that."
This is a disappointing step from past statements made by either Corey or Rico Gray where they claim that Marissa “aimed and shot” at Rico Gray and his two young children that were in the house at the time. Disappointing because the accusation that she “aimed and shot” at someone is probably wrong, but the insinuation that she tried to kill anyone is a bald faced lie. To prove it is a lie, you would either have to do hours of research…or just read the crime Marissa was charged with…out loud…once. Please join me:
“Aggravated Assault…without intent to kill.”
At no point does the evidence or the charge even suggest that she was trying to kill anyone. But what about the claim that she “aimed and shot” at her husband and his kids? When looking at the pictures from the crime scene and listening to the 911 tape, which Angela Corey told me would both prove that Marissa “shot at” someone, you don’t get the sense that either piece of evidence proves any of that. For one, as I have said before, Rico Gray tells three different stories on the 911 tape:
4:45-“I can’t believe she'd shoot in front of me…[corrects himself] shoot at [emphasis his] me…I’m so pissed off right now.”
7:12-“She just aimed the gun at us then she shot…well I know she probably wasn’t aiming at my kids…but she might as well be…”
The most revealing section of the 911 tape is at 4:45, where Rico Gray seems to change his story and correct himself mid-sentence. He first seems to imply that Marissa fired a gun in front of him (rather than at him), and then quickly restates and almost emphasizes to the 911 dispatcher that she fired at him. And this was supposed to be one of the strongest pieces of evidence to prove Marissa’s guilt.
Even the photos that Angela Corey’s office gave me, which she said would clear up any doubt that Marissa shot at her husband, show a single bullet hole at least a foot into the wall with an exit hole in an upward direction (and not “ricocheting" as Corey has claimed). Looking at the picture, it seems clear that if Marissa was aiming at anyone, they were either behind the wall or she is the worst shot in the history of people to ever qualify for a Florida Concealed Weapons Permits.
|Bullet hole pic 1|
2. Rico Gray never abused Marissa or anyone else. If he did, it is not relevant to the case.
The second most disappointing set of statements Angela Corey has made to the press relate to Rico Gray’s well-documented, yet often denied, history of violence towards his significant other(s). This history of violence has frequently been minimized or deemed irrelevant by Angela Corey. Just this week, she took the unusual step of allowing Rico Gray to speak to the Jacksonville-based media from her own office. In his virtual joint press conference with Corey, Rico Gray implied that the stuff he said in a past deposition about having “five babies’ mamas” and putting “hands on every last one of them except one" was a lie to protect Marissa. Lie or not, Angela Corey has insisted that “not all of that is relevant,” to the case.
To be clear, Rico Gray is not on trial. To also be clear, we technically live in a system that believes you are innocent until proven guilty. But to be even clearer, this man has told a different tale about his domestic violence (or three tales in the 911 tape) virtually every time he speaks to someone.
But the story that hasn’t been told enough is that of the other women that have been previously involved with Rico Gray. In fact, the jury was unable to see several letters written by former wives, girlfriends or in-laws of Rico Gray (many that barely knew Marissa Alexander) that recounted bone-chilling stories of pistol-whipping, being beaten and stripped of clothing, and having door locks super-glued on them. Perhaps the most relevant part of their accounts isn’t the alleged history of abuse but Rico Gray’s alleged attempts to cover up that abuse by manipulating and lying to law enforcement. At least one of those alleged cover-ups involved Gray enlisting his younger son, who was also a key witness in Marissa’s trial, in lying to law enforcement. In a previous piece, we highlighted the story of Chartrissia Anderson, who claimed that during a specific incident in which she called the police on Gray, he stabbed himself with a fork and asked his younger son to tell the police that Chartrissia did it. But there are other cases too.
- An ex-partner and mother of one of Rico Gray’s children (the same one that testified in court during Marissa’s trial) alleged that Rico called the police on her after he threw a chair through her car windshield, telling the police she was at his house threatening him with a gun. According to her, the police never found a gun because she never had one. “[Rico] has had me arrested 3 times because I fought back.” She said. “He is the biggest liar I have ever met…he make[s] you believe he is innocent.”
- Another letter written to the court by a woman who didn’t experience Rico’s attacks but witnessed his rage against one of his former partners stated, “I can only imagine what he did behind closed doors with Marissa. I can attest to being in fear for my life, and he wasn’t upset with me…”
So what exactly is so irrelevant about a star witness’ history of violence, especially when that history of violence includes allegations of lying to law enforcement and recruiting other eyewitnesses (his children) in covering up his abuse? I have yet to hear an answer that satisfies me. It is also not clear why Rico Gray’s recantation of his 66-page deposition admitting to abusing all five of his “babies’ mamas, except one,” is taken at face value. Admitting to abusing five ex-girlfriends/wives “except one” seems like a very oddly specific lie to make up to protect someone.
3. Angela Corey was just doing her job. If you want to blame something, blame Florida’s 10/20/Life mandatory minimum laws.
In some ways, Florida’s 10/20/life mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the ones that gave Marissa an automatic 20 year sentence just for firing a gun without hitting anyone, are absolving the prosecutor in this case of any sins in the same way that the “stand your ground” debate helped to absolve the police and original prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case of their mishandling of his murder investigation. In an otherwise good piece on CNN’s website, Roland Martin points to the 10/20/Life law as being the real shame of the Marissa Alexander case. If only that were true. Despite Angela Corey’s insistence to me that she tried her best to be equitable in Marissa’s case, the record says the opposite. While it is clear that the 10/20/life laws of Florida really do tie the hands of judges in sentencing, they often end up making the prosecutor the king/queen of the courtroom. As a former prosecutor and a defense attorney told me on my show Wednesday, Angela Corey had plenty of choices if she wanted to properly penalize Marissa for shooting a wall but still ensure a fairer sentence (as compared to people that …you know...decapitated someone). The original arrest report seems to confirm that fact.
If you look at the police report, the firearm wasn’t listed under the charges. The firearms aspect of the aggravated assault charges seems to have been added on later (or enhanced) by Corey’s office. As former prosecutor Eric Matheny told me on the show, at that point, Angela Corey didn’t have to add the enhancement that brings with it the mandatory 20 year sentence.
"I'll tell you what they could've done because I had this exact situation...I had a client who was an elderly gentleman...in his 80's...he was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm...what [the prosecutors] did was they charged him with aggravated assault, they did not list the firearm enhancement...punishable by five years in prison, no mandatory minimum...if found guilty the judge would've been free to do whatever the judge wants to do...prison...probation..."
Civil rights attorney John De Leon also argues that there are other, more appropriate charges that Marissa could have been charged with that would have had severe sentences, but not quite the 20-year mandated prison term.
"An assault (second degree misdemeanor) could have been charged instead of an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon...which would probably have been the appropriate charge in this case."
4. A 20-year sentence is necessary to discourage people from firing guns.
The six people or so, besides Angela Corey, that believe Marissa Alexander’s sentence is appropriate reiterate a point that she made to the press:
"I feel like when someone fires a loaded gun inside of a home…we have to have tough laws that say you don't do that"
In talking with domestic violence survivors that are outraged by this case, Marissa’s conviction seems to be having the opposite effect of what Ms. Corey suggests. “If she was going to get twenty years anyway, she should have just killed him [Gray], so other women wouldn’t have to suffer!” has been a common refrain in personal conversations and comment boards since Marissa’s sentencing. That is part of a "perverse irony" Greg Newburn from Families Against Mandatory Minimums describes:
“Let's face it, there is a significant possibility that she wouldn't have faced any prosecution at all had she killed him, because there wouldn't have been a second story to contradict hers...her decision not to kill this person is what put her in prison for 20 years...that's a perverse irony of the law [10/20/life].”
There are many reasons I keep talking about this case. For one, victims have a fundamental right to stop being victims. I also believe that the outcome of Marissa’s case, coupled with the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case, will for generations to come determine the future of race relations, victim’s rights, defendant’s rights and basic conceptions of justice. As it stands now, there is a chance that of two individuals, both claiming self defense in a case prosecuted by the same person, one may be imprisoned for twenty years for hurting no one while the other just might go free after killing someone.
To check out our other work on Marissa Alexander, check them out here, here, here and here.
To check out our other work on Marissa Alexander, check them out here, here, here and here.
Check out Marissa Alexander's family website (with info on a May 29 action) here.