Florida State Attorney Angela Corey spoke with Politic365 on Friday after Marissa Alexander, 31, was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Alexander, of Jacksonville, FL, was sentenced under a mandatory minimum sentencing requirement known as 10-20-Life for an incident on August 1, 2010 in which she discharged a handgun, but no one was shot or killed or injured. Alexander has been incarcerated since February 8, 2011. She had no previous criminal record before the Aug. 2010 incident.
A motion to invoke stand your ground immunity in Alexander’s case was denied last year.
When Corey was asked if she was comfortable with the Alexander prosecution, she answered: “We send a lot of people for 20 years on armed robbery where no one is shot or killed. How do we convince people not to use guns to commit crimes and not to use guns as a way to solve their marital problems? No. There is a strong message in not using a gun to commit a crime,” Corey answered.
From 1979 to 2004, the the average sentence for murder in Florida was 19 years.
Experts on mandatory minimum sentencing were stunned by Alexander’s sentence. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) Florida Director Greg Newburn called it “shockingly unjust.” FAMM’s National Director Julie Stewart wrote that Alexander’s husband, “was threatening to kill her … He had physically abused her in the past, one time sending her to the hospital.” In fact, the husband, Rico Gray, confirmed the physical abuse of his wife in a sworn deposition.
Alexander had an order of protection out on her husband, Rico Gray, Sr., since Sept 2009 and documents confirm she was the victim of domestic violence. Alexander’s sentencing comes two months after Trayvon Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman in Florida. Many find it disturbing that two possible stand your ground cases could have such different outcomes.
In the case of Marissa Alexander she discharged a weapon, yet killed no one - and was sentenced to 20 years. In the case of George Zimmerman, he shot and killed Trayvon Martin and was released by police that same night only to be charged and arrested for second degree murder 46 days later after widespread protest and national attention.
“If you are black, the system will treat you differently. A mere fifty miles away in Sanford Florida, 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,” Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), who represents Sanford and Jacksonville, FL said in a statement after Alexander’s sentence. “The three year plea deal from Angela Corey is not mercy and a mandatory twenty year sentence is not justice,” Brown added.
Both the Martin/Zimmerman and Alexander cases involve the same prosecutor, State Attorney Angela Corey of Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, which includes Duval County. She has been praised by many, including Brown, for charging Zimmerman with second degree murder. Now some are questioning her office’s handling of the Marissa Alexander case.
During a 25 minute interview with Politic365, Corey wanted to make it clear that Marissa Alexander had shot in the direction of her husband Rico Gray, Sr. during their argument on August 1, 2010 and that Alexander assaulted her husband in a separate incident on December 30, 2010 which landed her back in jail.
“They can not tell the public that she fired a warning shot into the ceiling that is simply not what happened,” Corey said. “She aimed the gun in the direction of Mr. Gray and the two boys,” Corey asserted. “This was definitely not a warning shot. He was in the living room with the two boys right next to him getting ready to go out the front door and she fired the gun right at the wall — we’ve got photos you can see,” Corey said.
“It was the photos and talking to the boys that convinced me. It’s not a warning shot when you fire and it comes in at about head level through the wall and only then goes up into the ceiling and into the living room,” Corey said. “This gun had a seven pound trigger pull. So this isn’t a hair trigger — this isn’t an accident. You can not aim a gun at three unarmed people. These were not burglars in her home these were her step children,” the Florida prosecutor explained.
Lincoln Alexander, Marissa Alexander’s first husband who brought media attention to her case with the site Justice for Marissa strongly disagrees. He pointed out that one of Rico Gray Sr.’s sons recanted his testimony in open court and believes that the moment triggered Corey’s 3-year plea deal offer to Marissa Alexander in March 2011.
“I’m really surprised that someone in Ms. Corey’s position would make false statements about a case that are so far off base,” argues Lincoln Alexander. ”Please understand that Ms. Corey released only one of four photos to prove her point. If you look at all 4 photos, it is apparent that the confrontation took place in the kitchen. The single shot, went through the sheet rock in an upward direction and the bullet went through the wall and entered into the ceiling. The trajectory of the bullet does not support Ms. Corey’s statement.”
Congresswoman Brown attended Alexander’s sentencing on Friday and challenged Corey in a hallway after. Brown believes that Alexander being a victim of domestic violence should have been an important mitigating factor. “Abused women like Marissa, who has a master’s degree and no prior record, need support and counseling so they don’t find themselves in these situations to begin with,” Brown said.
Already there is a talk of a national day of protest on Alexander’s behalf and renewed focus on mandatory minimum sentencing policies.
“This cannot be what then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the legislature intended when they passed the 10-20-Life gun law. It cannot be what Gov. Scott and the legislature support today,” FAMM’s Stewart concluded in an essay on Alexander’s case.
“This is just the beginning, not the end,” Congresswoman Brown said strongly.
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She is heard every Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WPFW every Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Washington DC. You can e-mail her at LBurke007@gmail.com follow her on twitter at @crewof42.