A judge has denied a new trial for a Florida woman who has gained national support for her assertion that she stood her ground firing a warning shot against an abusive husband and now can expect a 20-year sentence.
Defense attorney Kevin Cobbin spent about 40 minutes arguing on behalf of 31-year-old Marissa Alexander. He based much of it on what he called limitations the court placed on testimony that could support Alexander’s claim of her husband’s reputation of abusing women.
Authorities said Alexander shot in the direction of 36-year-old Rico Gray during an August 2010 dispute at their home with his two children in the house.
It took a jury just 12 minutes to find Alexander guilty in March of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Alexander, who rejected an earlier plea deal, said she was in fear of her life and fired the single shot to get Gray out of the house. She said she had tried to leave through the garage before getting her gun, but the door wouldn’t work.
Circuit Judge James Daniel denied all of Cobbins’ pleas for a new trial, repeatedly referring to the accounts of two witnesses who did testify about Gray’s violent reputation.
Cobbin argued that the court also erred in denying Alexander immunity in a Stand Your Ground hearing in July 2011. The law has become a firestorm for debate following the February killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford.
It helped elevate Alexander’s cause as the NAACP’s Jacksonville chapter issued a letter to the judge, supporters have rallied outside the courthouse and national media have zoned in on her story.
Cobbin added that new evidence pertaining to the details of the incident was not known at the time of the hearing.
That new evidence included the testimony of one of the victims, Gray’s son, who at first told authorities he was in fear of his life during the shooting. But at Alexander’s trial, he said he was not.
The judge said it would be improper, however, to reverse Circuit Judge Elizabeth Senterfitt’s previous findings in the immunity hearing, which would ultimately translate into an acquittal.
“Maybe I would be agreeing to a new Stand Your Ground motion, which highlights some of the difficulties we are struggling with procedurally implementing this new law,” Daniel said. “But ultimately the motion is denied.”
Daniel said that despite any new evidence, Senterfitt’s ruling was based on Alexander’s decision to go back into the home armed with a gun.
“This is inconsistent with a person in genuine fear of his or her life,” Senterfitt wrote in her ruling.
“She had every right to walk back in that house and had no intention of using that gun until he engaged her,” Cobbin said.
Daniel said he will consider acquitting her of one of the charges based on Gray’s son’s testimony at trial, which he said he took as the truth, though Alexander will still face the 20-year sentence on the other two counts.
State Attorney Angela Corey said it was Alexander’s choice to take the case to trial despite a plea offer that would have given her a three-year sentence. The offer was good until the Friday before her trial.
“We still considered all of her mitigation and offered to take 17 years off of the 20-year minimum mandatory, which the ’10-20-Life’ [law] is excellent at giving prosecutors the discretion to do,” Corey said.
Corey said that offer came even after Alexander was arrested four months after the shooting on a charge of domestic abuse, again against Gray. She pleaded no contest to that charge in March following her trial and was sentenced to time served.
Gray has been arrested twice on domestic battery charges, one against Alexander resulting in a conviction and a sentence of probation. Alexander had an injunction filed against him following the attack.
“There’s no set standard as to what you do when you’re in fear,” said Helen Jenkins, Alexander’s mother. “Actually, he’s still alive. That speaks well of her.”
Jenkins said she was disappointed by the judge’s ruling, but she and her supporters will “keep on going” to an appeal.
But not before Alexander is sentenced May 11.