Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Miami's Making of a "Zombie" and the Anatomy of a Private Prison Riot


Family, another week, another set of things to talk about.  This week is no exception.

1.  Is it bigger than "bath salts?"
So the whole world is making fun of Miami being ground zero for a "zombie apocalypse."  But when you really take a step back and look at the carnage that took place over memorial day weekend, it really isn't that funny.  Take the "zombie."  He has a name, Rudy Eugene.  His victim has a name too, Ronald Poppo.  And for all the "only in Miami" jokes there are pieces of this story that could've happened anywhere.  Today we want to have a real conversation on what the hell happened to make this possible.  Past the jokes, past the sensationalism.  Just some real talk.  Listen in as we talk with Kamalah Fletcher from Catalyst Miami.

2.  The Anatomy of a private "prison" riot.
Two weeks a go, a riot unfolded in a private immigrant detention center in Natchez, Mississippi.  The events left one guard dead and twenty people injured.  The facility is run by Corrections Corporation of America(CCA) and is similar to the detention center they are trying to build in South Florida.  Join us as we talk with Kathy Bird (Florida Immigrant Coalition/CCA Go Away Campaign), Bill Chandler (Mississippi Immigrant Rights Association), Gail Tyree (Grassroots Leadership),Kimberly Schultz (Teamsters Local 2011) and Azadeh Shahshahani (ACLU of Georgia, plus check out their report here) about what started the riot in the CCA facility and why other towns with similar facilities should or shouldn't be worried.  To listen to this segment, click here or press play below.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

AFTERMATH! Dharun Ravi's deal, Chicago NATO Problem and Violating VAWA

If you missed the show, check out the link here or below.  Plus you can Subscribe to our PODCASTS on iTunes and never miss our show!

1.  Did Dharun Ravi get a deal?
We began this week’s show with an update on the case of Dharun Ravi who was sentenced to 30 days in jail in addition to a $10,000 fine, three years probation and community service this past week. Ravi was on trial for his role in the unfortunate suicide of his roommate, Tyler Clementi, a gay student who had recently come out when Ravi used a webcam to record him involved in an intimate moment with another student. This case has stirred up a lot of controversy and the sentencing has been criticized by many for being overly lenient. We spoke with Michael Carr, former Rutgers student and New Jersey area activist, and Yasmin Nair, a Chicago based activist and writer, about the case and their reactions to the sentencing. Carr described his reaction as being one of both surprise and relief as he did not believe that the judge should have thrown the book at Ravi and Nair discussed the weaknesses that this case exposed in hate crimes laws. We were also joined by Lee Carson of the Black Gay Men's Leadership Council and Dan Goldman of LeGAYlize It who both agreed with Ravi's sentencing but disagreed about whether or not this case could have constituted a hate crime. Additionally, though everyone in the studio had differing opinions on the sentencing, everyone seemed to agree that Ravi is probably an a**hole, but sort of forgot that you can't say that word on the radio.  Listen to the segment here or below.

2.  Chicago's NATO Problem
Also on the show we take a quick look at the events that went down in Chicago last week and over the weekend during the NATO summit. We were joined by Scott Kimball, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who spoke about the protests that took place and about his experience participating in a march that culminated in him and several other soldiers returning their medals as a rejection of NATO’s policies and the wars that we are currently engaged in. Kimball also discussed the need to end the war in Afghanistan.  Check that segment here or below.

3.  Violating the Violence Against Women's Act
Finally on the show we look at the battle that has broken out around the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Since its initial passage back in 1994, VAWA has been one of those rare pieces of legislation that has always enjoyed bipartisan support and has been continually reauthorized and broadened in subsequent years without incident. That is until recently when Florida congresswoman Sandy Adams sponsored a House version of the bill which removes some of the protections that Senate version maintained and a huge partisan battle began brewing. We were joined on the show by Michelle Ortiz, the director of the LUCHA Project at Americans for Immigrant Justice, and Monika Johnson Hostler, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and President of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, to discuss what VAWA is and why they believe that the House version of the bill guts the spirit of the law.  Listen to the segment here or press play below.

Also, if you are in central Florida, don't forget to check out the rally in support of Marissa Alexander.  See the flyer and a message from Marissa's children below...

Dharun Ravi's deal, Chicago's NATO problem and Violating the Violence Against Women Act

Saturday, May 19, 2012

4 Lies, Distortions and Inaccuracies made in the Marissa Alexander case

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:

:46-“She was shooting at me and my son”
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

Bullet hole pic 2

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 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.

As the first outlet to read and disclose the actual evidence in the case to the public, please read some of our other work on the case, including The Different Views on Marissa Alexander's Case. To check out our other work on Marissa Alexander, check them out here, here, here and here.

Also check out our radio program where we interview Angela Corey below.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Aftermath:Marissa Alexander, Mandatory Minimums and the Power of Prosecutors

Folks!  If you missed the show, listen in by downloading here or pressing play below.  Or Subscribe to our PODCASTS on iTunes and never miss our show!

1.  More on the Marissa Alexander case:  What the prosecutor could have done different.

The recent sentencing of Marissa Alexander to 20 years in prison has everybody talking and in its wake we at Let’s Talk About It! did what we do, put out the facts with a little of our input and let you decide.  We specifically had something to say about what Angela Corey has been saying in the media.  Check it out.
But what we really wanted to know is what the prosecutor could have done differently.  To understand that and the confusing criminal law on the books, we talked to former prosecutor and current defense attorney Eric Matheny and civil rights/criminal defense attorney (and friend of the show) John De Leon  Hear what they had to say.  
2.  Mandatory minimums and the 10/20/Life law
In one of the most enlightening conversations we have ever had on Mandatory minimums (and not just because it was the first one), we also spoke with Greg Newburn, the Florida director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, about the Marissa Alexander case and about the effect that mandatory minimum sentences have on the justice system in Florida. He explained that in many states legislators pass mandatory minimum sentence laws without fully knowing what the consequences of the laws may be and how often times they are applied in situations where they were not originally intended. Newburn also informed us and our listeners of the numerous other examples of mandatory minimum sentences being applied to folks who, like Marissa, did not end up injuring or killing anyone before moving on to discuss the implications of a legal structure which encourages citizens to carry guns and to defend themselves on the one hand and then hits those same citizens with stiff penalties for doing just that.
The President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Desmond Meade, also joined us to discuss his take on mandatory minimum sentencing. Meade said he gets upset whenever he hears the argument that mandatory minimums are being applied in ways not foreseen by legislators because in many cases those legislators never bothered to read the bills in the first place. He doesn’t see the problem as being merely structural or legalistic but also as the product of the poor relationship that police departments and the legal system have to minority communities in particular. This segment is a must.
Finally we close out the show with some local news.  Namely, the eviction of Angela Samuels and the 10 workers fired from the Mardi Gras Casino for organizing a union. 

Marissa Alexander, mandatory minimums and the power of prosecutors

1. Marissa Alexander update: Was prosecutor Angela Corey just doing her job?
Marissa Alexander, the woman who claims she was defending herself against an abusive husband when she fired a single "warning" shot into the wall of her home, hurting no one, was sentenced on Friday to a mandatory 20 years in prison.  As we reported on Monday, that puts her sentence slightly higher than Floridians that have decapitated people, ran ponzi schemes and committed vehicular manslaughter.  A lot of people have talked about Florida's unjust mandatory minimum laws, and we will tonight too.  But first we want to know, could the Prosecutor (Angela Corey) have done something different when prosecuting the case?  Hear what attorney John De Leon has and former prosecutor/current defense attorney Eric Matheny have to say about it.  Check out some of our other coverage on the case here.

2.  Mandatory minimums and 10/20/life, is it time for a change?
Almost everyone, except maybe Angela Corey's office, believes that the 20 year sentence in the case is excessive and/or unjust.  The mandatory sentencing is part of a 10/20/Life law that takes the power away from judges to decide sentences on their own in felony cases involving the possession and discharging of a gun.  Listen in to Greg Newburn from Families Against Mandatory Minimums and Desmond Meade of Florida Rights Restoration Council as we talk about the future of justice in states with mandatory minimum sentencing.

And we will also check in on the local fight for fair wages at the Mardi Gras Casino and other stories.

Monday, May 14, 2012

5 People doing less prison time than Marissa Alexander

By Kaan Ocbe and Subhash Kateel

On Friday, Marissa Alexander, a Floridian mother of three,  was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a gun into a wall that hurt no one.  She claimed it was a warning shot in self defense against a husband with a history of documented domestic abuse toward her and others.  Prosecutor Angela Corey (also the prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case) claims, however, that it was a shot out of anger that could have (but didn't) hurt two children that were in the house at the time.  Last week, a few days before sentencing, I asked Angela Corey on our show if she thought justice would be served by Marissa Alexander serving a twenty year term behind bars for an incident in which no one was hurt:
"When you look at the photos...listen to the 911 to the children and look in their eyes, like I did, you understand what happened in this case, and then you know that yes, justice was done..."

This made us want to do some quick research to see if anyone else in Florida or anywhere else is doing 20 years in prison for not hurting anyone.  What we found instead are a few folks doing less time for hurting more people (sometimes physically, other times financially).

1. Steven N. Lippman, 5 years.  Because who do Ponzi schemes really hurt?
(Amy Beth Bennett, Sun Sentinel / May 11, 2012)
On the very same day that Marissa Alexander learned that she was going to be sentenced to 20 years in prison, Steven N. Lippman plead guilty to his involvement in a Ponzi scheme with the disgraced Rothstein Law Firm and conspiring to break federal election laws in order to become the largest donor to John McCain’s presidential campaign back in 2008. What sort of time does a high powered lawyer who cheated investors and lent illegitimate influence to a presidential election face? In this case, Lippman will be sentenced this September and is facing a maximum of five years in prison.

2.  John Goodman, 16 years.  Because letting someone die while you are under the influence is only worse than shooting a wall when you aren't a billionaire and don't adopt your 48 year-old girlfriend to protect your assets.
Lannis Waters / Palm Beach Post
In 2010, Goodman was driving drunk when his Bentley ran a stop sign and slammed into 23 year old Scott Wilson's car, killing him.   On the same day that Marissa Alexander was given a 20 year bid for her deadly asssault on drywall and a ceiling, the Billionaire heard that his DUI manlaughter case would net him four years less that Alexander.  That sentence came just after he adopted his 48 year-old girlfriend as his daughter in what some see as an attempt to protect his assets from a wrongful death civil suit.

3.  Robert Cope, 15 years.  Because is DECAPITATING someone really worse that hurting no one?
In 2009, Robert Cope decapitated an elderly person.  No, he really did.  Although no one believes he is really sane, the judge felt he was competent enough to stand trial.  But unlike Marissa Alexander, he only committed manslaughter (vs. Aggravated Assault with no intent to kill).  He will spend 15 years in prison.

4.  Wilfredo Vazquez.  7 years, what you can get for sexually assaulting an immigrant when you are an ICE agent.
Wilfredo Vazquez was an ICE agent in September 2007 when he was transporting a detained Jamaican women between detention centers.  While in transport, he stopped by his home and allegedly sexually assaulted her.  In 2008, he plead down to a lesser charge of "knowingly causing another person to engage in a sexual act by threatening" and  "engaging in a sexual act with another person under his custody."  That euphemism for "rape" helped him "win" a sentence of 87 months in prison.

and finally for some perspective...

5.   Donald Rattanavong, 18 months.  What warning shots can get you in Illinois...when someone dies.
(Stacey Wescott/ChicagoTribune)
Illinois is one of those states that sort of does/sort of doesn't have one of those "Stand your ground" statutes.  With or without a Florida-style "Stand Your Ground," on July 4, 2011, Donald Rattanavong (a former buddhist monk)was at his home in Elgin, Illinois when he saw a group of teenagers approaching. Fearing that they were attempting to burglarize his home, he came out with his pistol and fired three warning shots. One of the teenagers was struck in the head and subsequently died. Rattanavong was sentenced to 18 months in jail this past Friday, the same day Marissa received a sentence nearly 20 times greater.  Don't get us wrong, the case is pretty messed up.

If you read this and aren't happy, visit Marissa Alexander's blog.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Outrage: The Case of Florida's Marissa Alexander

by Elizabeth Marie Taveras and Jonathan Brand
(note: both authors were present in the courtroom during Marissa Alexander's sentencing)

Click here for more on our continuing coverage of Marissa Alexander's case

As millions of children across the country are buying bouquets and making cards for Mothers Day, the children of Marissa Alexander won’t have that opportunity because their mother is starting a 20 year prison sentence not as a criminal, but as another victim of Florida’s misguided legal system. Who is Marissa? She is a young African-American mother of three who stood her ground against her long-term abuser yet is now being sentenced as if she was the perpetrator of the violence.

Her sentencing took place at the Duval County Courthouse early Friday morning at 9am.  Shortly after the opening formalities, a steady procession of character witnesses testified on Marissa's behalf as a good mother - but, alas, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. As witnesses to this injustice, we
felt that it was important to speak out about this immediately. As we watched the sentence get meted out to Marissa Alexander, we thought about our own experiences as children of mothers. We thought about our own mothers. We thought about the indignities that children and mothers endure, not just in Marissa's situation but in the many situations where families are ripped apart by injustice. Standing outside the courthouse, we collectively understood that this sentence, on the heels of Mother’s day,
is unjust - and this injustice, we believe, should prompt all of us to reflect on the meaning of Mother's Day through the eyes of Marissa Alexander.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The different views on Marissa Alexander's case (including mine)

by Subhash Kateel 
This morning, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault without an intent to kill.  Although her attorney promises to appeal, she may still do two decades behind bars for an incident in which no one was either killed or hurt.  This all started after Marissa Alexander was arrested in August 2010 for firing a shot that she claims was a warning shot to repel an abusive husband (Rico Gray) but prosecutors claim was out of anger and could have harmed two children that were in the house at the time. I have been following this case since April, talking to scores of people involved in the case including Marissa’s ex-husband/current advocate Lincoln Alexander, the lead Prosecutor Angela Corey (who is also the prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case), Marissa’s sister Helena Jenkins, Marissa’s lawyer Kevin Cobbin, and many others. 

I haven’t even tried to hide the fact that very little can convince me that this woman deserves to do twenty years in prison for hurting no one.  But I have tried, in my radio coverage, and writing (like here and here) on the case, to cite as much of the evidence available, so that people may make up their own minds.  In fact, our show was the first media outlet to actually cite the statements made by Rico Gray in a damning deposition.

That didn’t stop prosecutor Angel Corey from telling me on Tuesday that the media (including me) are “riling” people up and spreading “misinformation.”  Well, let me layout all of the information (most of the interviews are from our last show) that I have so that people will understand why I keep writing and talking about this case.

Here are the undisputed facts:

*Marissa Alexander is a 31 year old mother of three who had just given birth to a premature child nine days before her arrest on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill after discharging a legally owned firearm in the home jointly owned by her and her estranged husband at the time, Rico Gray.  Rico Gray’s children were present in the apartment at the time.

*Her husband Rico Gray has an alleged history of physical abuse that he has alternatively admitted and denied. 

*Neither the defense attorney nor the prosecutors dispute that Marissa Alexander was a likely victim of domestic violence.   However, Angela Corey’s office argued in a brief that the violence only resulted in “minor bruising” and never “resulted in serious bodily harm to her.” 

*Marissa Alexander fired a shot into the wall of the apartment that neither killed nor hurt anyone.  She claimed the shot was fired in self-defense, but prosecutors claim it was out of anger.

*Rico Gray called the police (the 911 tape) alleging that Marissa fired the gun at him and his children.
*After Marissa’s arrest, Rico Gray gave a 66 page deposition  where he admitted that  Marissa did not point the gun at him or his kids and that he would have “put his hands on her.”  It was in this same deposition that we heard that he put his hand on “all five of his babies’ mamas except one.”  He would later retract those statements, saying that he made them up to protect Marissa Alexander.

*After the initial incident and while out on bond, Marissa was arrested for an alleged attack on Rico Gray where he claimed she gave him a black eye and she was taken to the hospital.

Virtually every other fact in the case is disputed by someone.  Here are the questions in the case, and their answers from the different voices involved.

1.  Did Marissa Alexander fire a warning shot out of fear, or shoot out of anger?  Did she aim at Rico and his children?

Angela Corey: “the bullet happened to ricochet up into the ceiling instead of into one of the two children she aimed the gun at… the 911 call backs up the version that she went and got the gun and fired it out of anger, not fear.”

Kevin Cobbin: “the shot that was fired went through the wall in an upward direction right into the ceiling…Even Mr. Gray’s own son said that the gun was never pointed at anyone…Ms. Alexander went from having the gun down by her side when she was attacked, she raised it up in the air, flinched because she was afraid that she was going to get hit by him [Rico Gray] and fired one shot and it went straight up in a angular trajectory to the wall into the ceiling.”

Rico Gray (911 call):
:06-“She just shot at me with her gun…”
:46-“She was shooting at me and my son”                                                                       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.”                                                                         4:54-“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…”

Rico Gray (In the deposition): “I was walking toward her because she was telling me to leave the whole time…I was cursing and all that…and she shot in the air one time…(later in deposition)…if my kids weren’t there I probably would have put my hands on her.”

Rico Gray to Politic365blog : “I was begging for my life while my kids were holding on to my side, the gun was pointed at me.”

Rico Gray to Loop21blog : ““When the incident happened, I thought I was going to die in front of my kids that day…She pointed the gun at me…and my kids.”

Many people that have commented on this case have asked me why, if she aimed and fired the gun at Rico Gray and his children, she was not charged for a crime other than aggravated assault without intent to kill?  Is it possible to aim a gun at one (or three) people, fire at them, and not intend to kill them?  While lawyers and prosecutors may scoff at the general public’s naiveté of the legal nuances of the criminal justice system, that scoffing probably won’t make the questions go away.
pic 1 of house and bullet hole

pic 2 of house and bullet hole

2.  What about the testimony of the children? Although no transcript of the children’s testimony is publicly available yet, there are court documents that refer to the testimony of both of Rico Gray’s children, who were 9 and 13 at the time :

Angela Corey: “They [Rico and his eldest son] changed their stories and then they changed it back, and the 911 call backs up the version that she went and got the gun and fired a shot out of anger, not out of fear.”
One of his sons, who was reportedly “holding on to” Mr. Gray’s side when Marissa fired the shot, testified that he did not see Marissa Alexander fire the gun, and only heard it.

The mother of one of Rico Gray’s children testified in court that her son explained to her, “Ms. Alexander did not fire at us, but rather fired in the air because Dad was beating her.”

According to Kevin Cobbin, at this point, both children have changed their stories at least once and have at some point corroborated Marissa Alexander’s story.

3.  Is Rico Gray a credible eyewitness?  The most controversial figure in this case is Marissa’s husband Rico Gray.  It is really hard not to question his credibility given his changing statements and his alleged history of violence.  But there are differing opinions:

Angela Corey regarding Rico Gray’s history of violence: “Not all of that is relevant, his reputation for violence is relevant but…we have rules of evidence that limit the way that evidence can come in.”

Chartrissia Anderson (former partner of Rico Gray) :  “I’ve been hit in the mouth, pushed into walls, he’s run me into neighbor’s homes, he’s beaten me…outside to where I have been stripped of my clothing…The last time…he hit me in my mouth.  I went into my sons room to call the police and he started to yank the cord out of the wall. Once he realized the call had went through, he ran into our kitchen…pulled out a fork…took the fork, stood in front of his son …and started stabbing himself…and told his son [the same youngest son that testified in Marissa Alexander’s case] to tell the police…that I [Chartrissia] had done it.”

Kevin Cobbin: “Mr. Gray has gotten very good at knowing how to play the system.  And a lot of these men, who abuse women, are very good.  They know, ‘if I punch her in the face she is gonna have a mark.  But if I punch her in the head…back…stomach, it won’t be visible.”

4.  Is Rico Gray a victim too?  When speaking to Loop21 and Politic365, Rico Gray has intimated that he has been a victim of domestic violence as well, citing an incident after Marissa Alexander’s arrest where she allegedly gave him a black eye.  That incident was probably the most damaging claim made against Marissa’s credibility.

Angela Corey: “What do you make of a woman who claims she is so afraid of him that she had to fire a gun at him, and then despite a judge's order while she is out on bond for these charges, goes back over there and hits him, gives him a black eye and goes to jail for it?”

Kevin Cobbin: “My client went over to that house because she had to get a birth certificate signed, her child was born premature and was about to be cut off of health insurance…when she gets over there, he wants her to stay, she says no…and he jumps on her again that day.  The police came and took her to the hospital, they didn’t take him to the hospital.” 

Well, there is the police report and the hospital record.

5.  Why didn’t Marissa Alexander take a plea?

Angela Corey: “we offered her a plea deal [three years] that she turned down because she thought she would have better luck with the jury.”

Kevin Cobbin: “My client has maintained her innocence from the first day I met her until today.  Her story has remained the same; it has been backed up.  Why should someone that’s innocent, who has done nothing wrong but defend themselves, why should they take any day in prison?”

Rico Gray: “Personally, I wish she would have taken the three years…”

What troubles me the most about the conversations on the plea deal is that, at times, it seems that Ms. Alexander is being punished for not taking a plea.  Also, as a domestic violence survivor told me, “when looking at a mother of three, spending three years in prison does not feel like a deal for a crime in which you have no prior record, you neither killed nor hurt anyone, and you would be spending three times more time behind bars for hurting no one than Rico Gray would face for his domestic battery (of Chartrissia Anderson) sentence in 2006, for which he received probation.”

While I do not believe people should go around discharging firearms, especially in homes,  I cannot look at the evidence that has been made public and say that Marissa Alexander deserves to be in jail.  As the spouse of a former domestic violence advocate, I cannot say that “minor bruising” is not enough to make a victim of domestic violence afraid for their life.  As a human being, I can say that it is important to defend people’s rights to no longer be victims.  There are many victims in this case, Marissa Alexander, her kids, Rico Gray’s kids, the families of everyone involved.  But if Ms. Alexander truly watches her kids grow up while she is behind bars, the true victim in this case will be justice.

I leave you with her words at sentencing:

"I want to address my children, you're your mothers daughter. You're strong, you are black and you are beautiful and whenever you need me don't think the distance should keep you away from me, okay? Cause I'll be here for you sooner than you think. You, you are your father's son, you have wisdom about yourself. Rihanna Gray, last time I saw you, you were 7 months and now your 22 months. I breast fed you and spent hours with you. My love is here without seeing you or not and I know that angels are watching over you and one thing I pray is that my heartbeat beats once w/ yours so that we are all in unison. I want to address my Gray children, in the short time I got to know you , you meant a lot to me as well. I encourage you all to not let this situation impact you in a way and I will continue to pray for you all and I know that you'll be okay. I am simply a woman who loved a man very much, I got no apologies, I have nothing else to say."

Also, please check our original interview with Prosecutor Angela Corey

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

AFTERMATH: No Love in North Carolina and Update on Marissa Alexander

If you missed the show, you can hear it by downloading here or pressing play below.Or, subscribe to our PODCASTS on iTunes and never miss our show.

1.  No Love in North Carolina
This week North Carolina became the latest state to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnership (gay, straight or otherwise) which has taken over the headlines this week. On the show, we spoke with anti-amendment activists Wooten Gough of El Cambio and Kai Barrow of Southerners on the Ground who both had much to say about the amendment and its aftermath. Barrow discussed the necessity of framing the passage of the marriage amendment not as a gay rights issue but rather as part of a more broad discourse around the basic rights of human beings. She also described this amendment as being critical because of its role in a greater attempt by the radical right to lock in discriminatory policies that are detrimental to everyone’s freedom. Gough spoke about what it has been like to live as a gay man in rural North Carolina and his fears that this trend of states passing constitutional amendments to ban same sex marriages may continue to spread.

We were also joined by Pastor Jimmy Chalmers from North Carolina who was a part of the effort to block the passage of this new amendment even though he considers himself to be a political and theological conservative. Pastor Chalmers discussed the role of faith and public policy as well as the inordinate power that religious leaders have in shaping the political opinions of their congregations. Subhash and Reverend Chalmers also talk about what they see as being the real threats to families.  To here this segment, download it here or press play below.

2.  Exclusive Update on Marissa Alexander

As you may know, Let's Talk About It! has been among the most faithful followers of the Marissa Alexander case.  We followed up just two days before her sentencing with a bombshell interview with Angela Corey, the prosecutor in the case (and the current prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case), Kevin Cobbin, Marissa Alexander's attorney,  Chartrissia Anderson (a former partner of Rico Gray, Marissa Alexander's husband/"victim"/accuser), Lincoln Alexander (Marissa's ex-husband/current advocate) and Angie Nixon (Florida New Majority).  Angela Corey expressed her displeasure (to put it mildly) with the media (that means us) and their presentation of the case which she believes to be lopsided. We discussed what it means when Alexander’s husband, the star witness in the case, presents three different accounts of what happened the night of the incident.  We even played excerpts from the original 911 tape.  Alexander’s attorney, Kevin Cobbin, who makes it clear that neither he nor Alexander is trying to attack the state attorney’s office but that they need to find out why the system is not working for Marissa.  If you care about this case, you absolutely must hear this segment by downloading here or pressing play below.

Look out for more info soon.

Exclusive Marissa Alexander Update and No Love in North Carolina

Family!  It is that time again.  And times are really getting crazy.  Tonight:

1.  No Love in North Carolina?!?!?!
Last night, North Carolina passed by referendum a Constitutional Amendment that basically bans  Gay/LGBT marriages as well as Civil Unions between almost anybody.  Although the Amendment is not too much different than the one that passed in Florida, the news has been like a shot heard around the world.  Join us tonight as we get reactions North Carolinians on the ground, Wooten Gough (El Cambio), Rev. Jimmy Chalmers and folks from Southerners on New Ground. 

2.  EXCLUSIVE:  Marissa Alexander update
If you have been following us, you will know that we have been among the most faithful followers of the case of Marissa Alexander.  On Friday, she is expected to be sentenced to twenty years in prison for what she claims was self defense (where no one was hurt or killed) against an abusive spouse.  Over the past two days we have compiled a whole heap of evidence and interviews from Angela Corey, the prosecutor in the case (and in the Trayvon Martin case), Kevin Cobbin (Marissa's attorney), Angie Nixon (Florida New Majority) and family and friends of Marissa Alexander.  If you haven't heard about Marissa Alexander yet, it is time you heard now. And our show tonight will be the place to hear some of the most complete coverage on what many are calling one of the worst injustices in Florida's recent memory.  To check our other coverage on Marissa's case, please click here and here.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

ICE's Collateral Damage in an Ironic Sex Trafficking Raid

Adolfo Garcia & Julio Diaz shortly after their arrest
/beating by ICE
by Subhash Kateel

originally in the Huffington Post

An article in this week’s Miami Herald brought me back to November 2008, when I was an immigrant rights organizer in South Florida. In turns out that two men from Guatemala, Adolfo García and Julio Díaz, are set to be deported by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on May 18. How they got picked up and why they shouldn’t be deported is the subject of my flashback.

It all started with a November 21, 2008 press release authored by the former US Attorney for South Florida Alex Acosta (now the Dean of the FIU law school) and the former ICE Special Agent-in Charge of all investigations for the Miami field office, Anthony Mangione, announcing that they had broken up a South Florida sex trafficking ring involving Central American immigrants in Palm Beach, Broward county and Homestead, a small ruralesque city in south Miami Dade county. The sex trafficking raids, as described in the release, netted a total of four arrests. At the time, even ICE’s most vocal critics looked each other in the face, shrugged their shoulders and said, “well sex trafficking is really bad, so I guess they did a good job.” It only took a matter of hours before another story unfolded of the 90 or so other people ICE arrested in the same raid that the agency didn’t tell the press about and who had nothing to do with sex trafficking. They called them “collateral arrests,” which in this case meant the “overwhelming majority of arrests.” Two of those collateral arrests were of Adolfo Garcia and Julio Diaz.

 Several things make the “Homestead Raid of 2008,” as many have called it, ironic. For one, between Adolfo Garcia, Julio Diaz and Anthony Mangione, the Special Agent-in-Charge whose office led the raid, only one person would ever be charged with a sex crime…Anthony Mangione.

Keep reading...