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Another case had a different outcome under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law

Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday, May 11, 2012, for firing a warning shot in an effort to scare o
Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday, May 11, 2012, for firing a warning shot in an effort to scare off her abusive husband. She tried to […] Credit: CNN

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In the wake of the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, another name started to trend Monday on the Internet: Marissa Alexander.

The Jacksonville, Florida, woman tried to use a “Stand Your Ground” defense in 2012, but was later convicted of three counts of aggravated assault.

The biggest question people have as they continue to share Alexander’s story is: Why was this mother of three sentenced to 20 years in prison while Zimmerman walked free?

Alexander said her husband, Rico Gray, tried to strangle her on August 1, 2010, after reading text messages she had sent her ex-husband. She said she escaped his grip and, instead of leaving out the front door, went into the garage to get into her car. But in the confusion of the fight, Alexander said she forgot her keys.

“I knew I had to protect myself,” Alexander told CNN in a 2012 interview. “I could not fight him. He was 100 pounds more than me. I grabbed my weapon at that point.”

Gray saw the weapon at his wife’s side when she returned, according to Alexander, and continued to threaten her life. That’s when she said she decided to fire a warning shot.

“I believe when he threatened to kill me, that’s what he was absolutely going to do,” said Alexander. “That’s what he intended to do. Had I not discharged my weapon at that point, I would not be here.”

Gray had his two children with him when Alexander fired a shot into the wall but no one was killed or even injured.

In a deposition with the Florida state attorney’s office, Gray even backed up his wife’s story.

“If my kids weren’t there, I knew I probably would have tried to take the gun from her,” Gray said. “If my kids wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her.”

When Alexander’s defense attorney asked him what he meant by “put my hand on her,” Gray replied, “probably hit her. I got five baby mammas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one.”

But in a hearing to dismiss Alexander’s case under the “Stand Your Ground” law, Gray changed his story, saying he lied to protect his wife.

“I begged and pleaded for my life when she had the gun,” Gray said.

The judge refused to grant Alexander immunity under the “Stand Your Ground” law. Alexander also rejected a plea deal of three years in prison, opting instead to take her case in front of jurors. They found her guilty in just 12 minutes.

Under Florida’s 10-years-to-20-years-to-life law, Alexander was sentenced to a mandatory 20 years behind bars because she was convicted of aggravated assault where a firearm was discharged.

Zimmerman, on the other hand, was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter by a jury of six women. It took them a little more than 16 hours to render the verdict that set Zimmerman free.

Zimmerman never went before a judge, like Alexander, asking for immunity under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. The former neighborhood watch captain went straight to trial, instead, where he was charged in the fatal shooting of Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. Martin was walking through Zimmerman’s neighborhood that night when Zimmerman saw him and told police that he looked suspicious. The two got into an altercation, and Zimmerman said he was forced to draw his gun and shoot Martin in self-defense.

Protests were held around the country, calling for Zimmerman’s arrest for Martin’s death. Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder in April of 2012. The case has reinvigorated national conversations about race, racial profiling and self-defense laws.

And now the question on many people’s minds — including Alexander’s — is why a claim of self-defense failed Alexander but worked for Zimmerman.

“Other defendants have used it. What’s so different about my situation that it doesn’t apply to me?” Alexander asked.

Syndicated columnist Roland Martin says, however, it’s not controversial self-defense laws that are to blame in Alexander’s case. In an opinion piece for CNN, Roland pointed his finger at Florida’s mandatory minimum sentences.

“Did the bullet hit the children? No. Did Alexander point the gun at her husband and hit him? No. She simply fired a warning shot, and according to Florida’s shameful law, that’s enough for a minimum 20-year sentence,” Roland wrote. “Florida elected officials and residents should be ashamed of this law and do all they can to change it.”

Amanda Sloane |