Marissa Alexander, the 34-year-old African-American woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for defending herself against her former abusive spouse, has been granted a new trial. This announcement came 12 days after a Sept. 14 Nationwide Day of Rallies for Marissa Alexander. Many cities held support actions demanding “Let’s get her out!”
Even before this call was made on Facebook, thousands of people here and around the world signed petitions and held numerous protests — including the youth-led Dream Defenders who sat in at the Florida State Capitol this summer — demanding that her outrageous conviction be overturned.
This case has truly shone a bright light, nationally and internationally, on the issues of racism and sexism deeply embedded within the Florida judicial system.
On Aug. 3, 2010, in Jacksonville, Fla., Alexander, who had survived many years of domestic abuse, fired a single shot into a wall in self-defense to warn off her estranged spouse, Rico Gray, during a dispute at which two of their children were present. Gray violated a court injunction granted to Alexander after a beating she had received from him during her third pregnancy. A week before the incident, she had given birth to a premature baby. Alexander used a gun registered in her name. No one was injured.
During her trial in August 2011, Alexander’s legal defense introduced the “stand your ground” law, which states that anyone who feels threatened with violence has the right to defend herself or himself without reprisal. However, the trial judge denied Alexander immunity from prosecution under this law, saying that her decision to go back into the house armed with the gun was “inconsistent with a person in genuine fear of his or her life.” (Tampa Bay Times)
Alexander was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The prosecution was led by Florida State Attorney Angela Corey — who was also part of the prosecution team in the trial of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. Corey also accused Alexander of child abuse.
The reason given by the Florida First District Court of Appeals for its Sept. 26 opinion reversing the conviction was that the jury received erroneous instructions shifting the burden of proof for self-defense onto Alexander. Judge James H. Daniel will be announcing the new trial date. Alexander’s lead appellate lawyers, Faith E. Gay and Bruce Zimet, will be heading up her defense.
While every activist and revolutionary is heartened by this welcome development, a looming, larger issue is why should Alexander spend one more day or one more hour in prison for justifiably defending herself and her children from more abuse. Women, especially women of color, face a double standard of injustice when it comes to the courts, police and the law, especially where domestic violence is concerned.
To add insult to injury, a Florida clemency board panel refused to hear a request that she be pardoned just one day before the Sept. 26 ruling. Alexander has been detained and imprisoned since her arrest in 2010. Three horrific years have been stolen from her life and the time she should have been with her children. Should not time served have been the basis for her being pardoned, similar to the case of Gladys and Jamie Scott in Mississippi, who were falsely convicted of robbery?
Winning a new trial does not automatically mean freedom for Marissa Alexander. Just as intense mass pressure on social media and being visible in the streets won her right to a new trial, that same kind of pressure must continue, especially during her new trial, until she is freed and allowed to be with her children.