In 2012, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in jail for firing a warning shot at the wall of her home in what she said was an attempt to ward off her abusive husband.
The 31-year-old Florida mother had never been arrested for another crime, and the bullet she fired that day didn't strike anybody. Adding to the controversy, the judge rejected Alexander's effort to invoke the state's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows a potential victim to use deadly force in self-defense without being required to retreat. She was ultimately found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, based in part on her husband's testimony that she had intended to shoot him, but missed. The charges subjected her to a two-decade minimum jail sentence.
In the wake of a Florida jury's recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who killed unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin in 2012, Alexander's case -- and the state's "Stand Your Ground" statute -- have received newfound scrutiny. A flood of petitions have been submitted to MoveOn.org's platform and elsewhere, calling for her release and noting the sentencing disparity and differing outcomes of Zimmerman and Alexander's trial.
"Stand Your Ground" played a complicated role in the Zimmerman-Martin episode. Zimmerman's attorneys ultimately didn't cite "Stand Your Ground" in his legal defense. Doing so would have implied that Zimmerman could have retreated during the 2012 incident in which he claimed Martin assaulted him and pinned him down, preventing an escape. The defense opted for a broader self-defense argument, and the jury sided with his account by acquitting Zimmerman on Saturday. Still, language from the 2005 "Stand Your Ground" law was included in jury instructions at the onset of the case.
And "Stand Your Ground" impacted the immediate the response to Martin's killing more directly. A provision that protects those who claim their actions were in self-defense prevented Zimmerman from being taken into custody for nearly six weeks after the shooting. "Stand Your Ground" was also invoked by a juror during a Monday interview, though some have suggested that the mention was a misunderstanding.
While prosecutors in Alexander's case have rejected that there are parallels between her case and Zimmerman's, Alexander's supporters have claimed that the judge's refusal to allow a "Stand Your Ground" defense is proof of a racial bias at play in the law.
"The Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear messages today," Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Fla.) said after Alexander's conviction last year. "One is that if women who are victims of domestic violence try to protect themselves, the 'Stand Your Ground Law' will not apply to them. ... The second message is that if you are black, the system will treat you differently."
Angela Corey, the state attorney who prosecuted Alexander and oversaw the Zimmerman case, recently explained her disagreement to the Washington Post.
“[Alexander] put a round in the chamber, and she fired that shot out of anger, not fear,” Corey said, claiming that Corey's husband and children had been on their way out of Alexander's house. “She didn’t need to use that gun. Those kids were scared to death. They ran for their lives.”
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