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The story of Marissa Alexander: When justice is blind, deaf and dumb

Laws and LegislationHomicideShootingsCourts and the JudiciaryJustice System

Add this to the ever-expanding list of ludicrous decisions, ridiculous incidents and moments that defy the most basic elements of common sense.

Marissa Alexander, a 33-year-old Florida woman accused of firing what she called a warning shot at her estranged husband, could serve up to 60 years in prison. This is courtesy of a convoluted state justice system that accepts self-defense arguments in the most outlandish cases but not others, while also demanding minimum mandatory sentences that leave judges with few options.

If Alexander is convicted, she will go to prison, unlike George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin last year in Florida. She may even serve more time than Michael Dunn, who was rewarded with a hung jury that couldn't convict him of killing unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Davis. (Strangely enough, he was convicted of three charges of attempted murder.)

Does this make sense to anybody?

For a change, let's leave race out of it. But we must, for sure, insert gender. While two men successfully argued that they feared for their lives, Alexander could not claim the same defense when her abusive husband came after her, a husband with a history of domestic battery and a restraining order on his head to prove it.

You bet that if I were Alexander, I'd fear for my life. So would you. But apparently some legal minds, including that of the judge who ruled that Alexander probably wasn't in "genuine fear" of her life, think differently.

Alexander's case sounds eerily familiar to advocates of battered women. Less than 10 days after giving birth to a premature baby girl, Alexander was threatened by Rico Gray, who returned to their Jacksonville, Fla., home and accused her of infidelity. When she hid in a bathroom, Gray broke down the door and choked her. Then, after she fled again, Gray allegedly threatened to kill her. When he came after her, she fired the shot with her legally owned gun.

Insisting that Alexander had fired out of anger not fear, State Attorney Angela Corey charged Alexander in 2010 with three counts of aggravated assault against Gray and two children in the home. Because Florida has mandatory penalties for crimes involving a gun, Alexander received the mandatory 20 years.

That 2012 conviction was overturned by the First District Court of Appeal, which found that the presiding judge had wrongly instructed jurors that Alexander had to prove her claim of self-defense. After 21 months in jail, she was released, but Corey promptly refiled the same charges. A new trial is set for July 28 and now, because of a change in the law that requires sentences to be served consecutively, not concurrently, Alexander faces the possibility of serving triple the time for a crime she shouldn't have been charged with anyway.

The brazen injustice of the case has attracted national attention, and rightly so. The Free Marissa Now campaign has condemned Corey's office. State legislators are drawing up bills to tinker with mandatory sentencing and opponents of the Stand Your Ground Law are holding up the Alexander case as yet another example of the flaws in that dubious legislation.

All well and good, but in the meantime, a woman who was battered by a man must live with the knowledge that she may spend the rest of her life in jail. And the abuser?

I couldn't find any report about Rico Gray's whereabouts. But this stuck in my craw: In a deposition, he told police: "I got five baby mamas and I (hit) every last one of them, except for one."

Does this imbalance of justice make sense to anybody?

(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)herald.com.)

(c) 2014, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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