The Trayvon Martin case and Florida’s “stand your ground” law were brought into sharp relief yet again — this time in a Jacksonville courtroom where a woman who said she fired a warning shot to ward off an abusive husband was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Among the fiercest critics of Friday’s sentencing was Rep. Corrine Brown. “Jacksonville is my home,” the Democratic congresswoman said. “I have lived here all of my life. And clearly it was no justice in this courtroom.”
Marissa Alexander, 31, had been convicted of three counts or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Alexander, who is African American, has said she fired the gun in the August 2010 incident as a warning to her husband, Rico Gray, 36. Gray’s two sons were in the room at the time, but no one was injured.
Alexander had earlier cited the “stand your ground” law, which allows the use of deadly force in some life-threatening situations.
In a statement, Brown alluded to Martin and the man who shot him, George Zimmerman, saying that the “message is that if you are black, the system will treat you differently. A mere 50 miles away in Sanford, Fla., a white man who shot a black teenager and claimed self-defense was not even arrested until community leaders and people around the world expressed their outrage.”
Sanford police initially declined to bring charges against Zimmerman, citing the stand your ground law. Zimmerman has since been charged with second-degree murder and has pleaded not guilty.
After Friday’s court hearing Brown had an extraordinary exchange with State Atty. Angela Corey. Coincidentally, Corey was the prosecutor named by Gov. Rick Scott to handle the Zimmerman case and she was the one who announced to a nationwide audience that criminal charges were being filed against him.
In a recording posted on the website of the Florida Times-Union, Corey and Brown can be heard sparring over Alexander’s sentencing before a sometimes noisy crowd.
Corey said that she had sat down with Alexander to offer a plea bargain that would have meant three years in prison.
“When she discharges a firearm in the presence of human beings, the Legislature says it’s dangerous,” Corey told Brown. “And one of the reasons is because the bullet went through the wall where one of the children was standing. It happened to deflect up into the ceiling, but if it had deflected down and hit one of the children, so this law ... .”
At this point her voice on the recording was drowned out by onlookers.
A bit later, Brown tried to cut Corey off. “Wait a minute,” she said. “I am very upset.”
“Stand your ground!” a man hollered in the background.
After more back and forth, Brown said that Alexander’s supporters were just asking for “mercy and justice.”
“Congresswoman,” Corey replied, “I showed her mercy when I sat down with her … .” Again, noise drowned out her comments.
Corey also explained how a second confrontation between Alexander and Gray led to her recent conviction and Friday’s sentencing. After the shooting, Alexander was released on bond and ordered to stay away from Gray. A few months later, Corey said, she went to Gray’s home and “gave him a black eye” — and later denied to police she had been at the residence.
Alexander could not be offered probation in the shooting case because she had violated a judge’s order, Corey said. The prosecutor again mentioned that Alexander had been offered an alternative to a 20-year sentence.
“We offered her three years,” Corey said, adding that the offer was available right up to the time Alexander opted for a jury trial.
For the record, 2:03 p.m. May 15: An earlier version of this post reported that Marissa Alexander was not allowed to defend herself by citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which permits the use of deadly force in some life-threatening situations. Actually, Alexander was not barred from making that argument during her trial. Alexander had argued a year earlier that the stand your ground law meant she did not have to stand trial at all, but a judge rejected that argument and said the trial could proceed.