A Florida mother of three fired a warning shot at her husband after an argument escalated. According to a sworn deposition, Marissa Alexander’s husband Rico Gray got belligerent after he found text messages to her ex. “The two were already estranged – according to her father, Alexander had been living at her mother’s since the birth of the couple’s daughter nine days earlier, and Gray, a long-haul trucker, said he spent the night before in his tractor-trailer. Gray began calling her names, saying “If I can’t have you, nobody going to have you,” and blocking her from exiting the bathroom.” That’s when things got sticky . . .
Alexander managed to get past Gray and retrieved a gun from her car. From cbsnews.com:
“Gray told prosecutors in the deposition that Alexander came back into the house holding the weapon and told him to leave. He refused, and what happened next is somewhat unclear. In his deposition, Gray said “she shot in the air one time,” prompting him and the children to run out the front door. But when Gray called 911 the day of the incident, he said “she aimed the gun at us and she shot.””
Gray has a history of violence with Alexander. But a judge rejected her attorney’s request for immunity under Florida’s stand your ground law.
According to the judge’s order, “there is insufficient evidence that the Defendant reasonably believed deadly force was needed to prevent death or great bodily harm to herself,” and that the fact that she came back into the home, instead of leaving out the front or back door “is inconsistent with a person who is in genuine fear for her life.”
Alexander’s case was prosecuted by Angela Corey, the Florida State’s Attorney who is also prosecuting George Zimmerman. Alexander was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and because she discharged a firearm during the incident, the case fell under Florida’s “10-20-life” law, enacted in 1999, which mandates a 20-year sentence for use of a gun during the commission of certain crimes.
Corey, who ran on a platform of getting tough on “gun crime” offered a 3-year plea bargain for Alexander pleading guilty to aggravated assault. Alexander refused that deal. Corey asserts that Alexander shot out of anger, not fear, and in so doing endangered others in the house and committed a gun crime.
Another wrinkle in this case is Florida’s mandatory sentencing laws. Neither the judge nor the jury saw the incident as self defense, so the conviction carried with it a minimum 20 year sentence.
“You can’t shoot a gun at people,” says Corey. “It ricocheted from the wall to the ceiling, but what if it had hit someone?”
Alexander’s case is bringing scrutiny to mandatory minimum sentences, which Stone says “take discretion out of judges’ hands” and essentially hand that power to prosecutors, who already decide which charges to bring. Corey, for example, could have charged Alexander with straight aggravated assault, instead of adding the gun charge, but she told Crimesider that once Alexander rejected the plea deal, she felt it was her duty to charge according to the law.
As Corey put it, “She discharged a gun to kill them, and she has to answer for that.”
Without being on the jury and hearing all the evidence, it’s hard to figure this one out. Warning shots are not the act of someone in fear for their life. Self defense training dictates that the gun stays in its holster until and unless life is in danger, and then it is three rounds center of mass quick as you can. On the other hand, a warning shot might be an act of someone struggling with the idea of killing someone – even an abuser.
Does the prosecutor really want to send a message that if Gray had been shot dead by Alexander, she might be a free woman? Does the warning shot establish a different state of mind – one of anger rather than fear? How does one guarantee that when you are fearful you are not angry?
Discharging a firearm around others is a serious matter, but I can’t see sending a woman to jail for three years, much less 20. If I were a prosecutor and the only choice I had in this situation was three years or a walk, I’d have real trouble going for three years. It may not be just to allow someone to get away with an unsafe discharge of a firearm, but the injustice of three years outweighs the injustice of no prosecution.