April 27th, 2012
10:48 PM ET

"Stand your ground" double standard in Florida?

Editor's Note: AC360's Gary Tuchman tells the story of Marissa Alexander, a woman who fired a gun in self-defense against her abusive husband. The case provides another example under which to examine Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law. Gary's producer, Chuck Hadad, wrote the companion text piece for CNN.com

Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, pleaded for her freedom as an inmate in the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville, Florida.

"This is my life I'm fighting for," she said while wiping away tears. She added, "If you do everything to get on the right side of the law, and it is a law that does not apply to you, where do you go from there?"

Alexander is referring to Florida's so-called 'stand your ground' law, a law that has come under scrutiny since the killing of Trayvon Martin. Unlike the Martin case, which involved one stranger killing another, Alexander's case involved her gun and her abusive husband.

On August 1, 2010, she said her husband, Rico Gray, read text messages on her phone that she had written to her ex-husband. She said Gray became enraged and accused her of being unfaithful. "That's when he strangled me. He put his hands around my neck," Alexander said.

She managed to escape his grip but instead of running out the front door of their home, she ran into the garage, she said, to get into her truck and drive away. Alexander said that in the confusion of the fight, she forgot to get her keys and the garage door wouldn't open, so she made a fateful decision. "I knew I had to protect myself," she said, adding, "I could not fight him. He was 100 pounds more than me. I grabbed my weapon at that point."

She went back inside the house and when Gray saw her pistol at her side, she said he threatened to kill her, so she raised the gun and fired one shot. "I believe when he threatened to kill me, that's what he was absolutely going to do. That's what he intended to do. Had I not discharged my weapon at that point, I would not be here."

Alexander, however, said she did not aim the gun at her husband. She said she fired into the air intending to scare him away and Gray quickly left the house with his two children. No one was hurt in the incident, but Alexander sits in jail facing a 20-year sentence on three charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Gray admitted to a history of physical abuse. In a previous incident, Alexander said he beat her so severely she ended up in the hospital and he ended up in jail. "He pushed me, choked me, pushed me so hard into the closet that I hit my head against the wall and passed out for a second," Alexander said.

In a deposition for the case against Alexander, Gray backed up much of his wife's story. "I told her if she ever cheated on me, I would kill her," he said during the proceeding led by a prosecutor for State Attorney Angela Corey's office and his wife's defense attorney.

"If my kids weren't there, I knew I probably would have tried to take the gun from her," Gray said, adding, "If my kids wouldn't have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her." When Alexander's defense attorney asked him what he meant by "put my hand on her," Gray replied, "probably hit her. I got five baby mammas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one."

Alexander's attorney filed a motion for dismissal under the stand your ground law but at that proceeding her husband changed his story. Gray said he lied during his deposition after conspiring with his wife in an effort to protect her. At the hearing, he denied threatening to kill his wife, adding, "I begged and pleaded for my life when she had the gun." The motion was denied by the judge.

Alexander was offered a plea deal by Corey's office, but she opted to go to trial. A jury found Alexander guilty in 12 minutes. She is baffled why invoking the stand your ground law wasn't successful in her case.

"Other defendants have used it. What's so different about my situation that it doesn't apply to me?" she asked.

The local NAACP believes race may have played a role.

"There's a double standard with stand your ground," said Isaiah Rumlin, president of the Jacksonville Chapter of the NAACP. "The law is applied differently between African-Americans and whites who are involved in these types of cases," he added.

Rumlin cited two shooting cases in Florida with white shooters: One had a successful stand your ground defense and the other has yet to be charged with a crime. Online blogs are also raising the question of race. Last week, a spokeswoman for the Rev. Al Sharpton confirmed he, too, was looking into Alexander's story. When asked about race as a factor in her case, Alexander declined to comment.

CNN requested an interview with Rico Gray for this story. He agreed but later declined through a family friend, saying he was concerned that speaking publicly would put his life in danger. On Sunday, he resumed contact with CNN, offering an interview to "anyone who would like to pay." Monetary compensation for an interview is against CNN policy.

Through a spokeswoman, State Attorney Angela Corey declined to comment on the case until after the sentencing. Alexander's attorney, Kevin M. Cobbin, is fighting for a new trial and that hearing is tentatively scheduled for next week. If that motion is denied, Alexander will receive a mandatory 20-year sentence with no possibility of parole.

Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Steve

    Issue is ... she didn't shoot and kill him. Should have shot him and case closed. It isn't assault it is self defense. When you shoot, you shoot at center mass for the purpose of eliminating the threat ... pure and simple. Otherwise, you open yourself up for trouble!

    May 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  2. Heather

    That this woman faces 20 years behind bars, and a self admitted woman abuser has custody of their daughter is BEYOND ridiculous... This man had been arrested for previously abusing this woman, yet she is somehow the criminal and he is the victim ? The fact that she was even charged with a crime is shameful...Never mind the fact that she was then convicted as well. The judge needs to show compassion on her sentencing date and toss the verdict out as improper. Shame on the DA for even filing charges !

    May 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  3. Nysi Taylor

    There is wrong on so many levels of the case it I am incredulous. The man admitted to a crime, had a restraining order, endangered his children and still is not in jail. The is the sign of the culture in Florida where not only Jim Crow is still alive but oppressive abusive attitudes toward women are accepted. Did they poll the jury? Where can you find the transcript of the case its not in public records?

    May 3, 2012 at 5:14 am |
  4. charles crocheron

    This is just what i was thinking the supporters of zimmerman are fighting for this law and his rights to stand him groung, so why is there no one from Fox news interviewing her and her family? why is the system keeping her in jail she has the same rights as zimmerman right, see its all about skin color....to bad this would be a great case to show the law is a good law and it works for all people...missed opportunity people..

    May 1, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  5. John

    To play devil's advocate, and trust me, I do not believe that this woman should do a bit of jailtime, however, she had a protective order against him and he was still there? Last I checked, it is automatic jailtime when you violate a protective order. If she allowed him to do so, it is also her fault. He beat her previously bad enough to hospitalize her, yet she still went back? Sorry, you have to learn your lesson at some point. He openly admits that he beats his multiple women, what the heck is wrong with these women?

    May 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  6. Ker

    Juries are very unpredictable. It's always a gamble. She didn't have the dream team.

    May 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  7. India

    This case is an example of what should not be acceptable in today's society. I will be praying for Marissa and her family. I hope this exposure to her case helps her get a new trial.

    May 1, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  8. Janet Garnett

    This is NOT RIGHT. WHY doesn't she have the right to DEFEND HERSELF??? Okay – scratch the "Stand Your Ground" statement. She SHOT INTO THE AIR – SHE DIDN'T EVEN SHOOT HIM! This is Turkey spam!!! Something HAS to be done about these double, triple and QUADRUPLE standards in this country! It was SELF-DEFENSE! Something we ALL have a right to! Thank you for hearing me out.

    April 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm |

    Is there anything about this case that's not yet known? It seems very straight forward. An enraged husband and a wife who needed to defend herself. Above all, the husband is alive and well. So, how much harm did she intend if she never shot at her husband? Did the jury sleep through the deliberation, or were they from another planet?

    April 30, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Tony Smith

      There is a lot we don't know. I think CNN could have at least gone through the trial documents to see what happened, what evidence was presented to the jury. Instead, this blog is simply a rehashing of her essay that has been posted all over the web.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:49 am |
      • fiona watt

        The husband has a documented history of violence. This should be a warning for people in abusive situations. I know, its never the victims fault but you never know who in the DA office is trying to make a name for themselves

        May 3, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • chuck

      all the story hasn't been outted. If she was able to get away she should have run out the front door or locked herself in the truck. She had the gun at the point and if he broke in the truck she could have shot him, but by going back in with the gun. that changed everything. Should she get 2o years? No, but she did have choices.

      May 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  10. Paul A. Ware Jr

    Mr Bill Crosby made a comment concerning the Trayvon Martin case that it was not about race, it was about a armed man who no training on the use of a fire arm. Partly true were race came in Zimmerman 911 call his misguided stereotyping of that young man. In this case a life was threaten on her property she did use judgement in the use of the gun, she did not discharge it killing another individual. It just seem strange certain people use whatever means to tear our families apart, there are two children without a mother. As for the acuser I will just say this Willie Lynch symdrone.

    April 29, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  11. Andra

    The Stand Your Ground Law should protect Marissa Alexander, she didnt kill her abusive husband, she tried to frighten him away...this man admitted his abuse and his threats to kill her, it should not matter he later recanted his story that supported hers...you can tell by his cooperation and then change of story he is a selfish man and a lier who will say what best benefits him, his testimony should be thrown out. This women is facing 20 years with no possibility of parol for firing a warning shot in the air to frighten away someone who threatened her life...When is it ok to stand your ground? When your dead?

    April 28, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  12. jon

    Forgot to point out the double standard practiced by the NAACP. They say that the stand your ground law should be banned in the Tryvon Martin case where the shooter is White or Hispanic and then they back the law when the shooter is black. You can't have it both ways...you are either for the law or against the law. The case in Jacksonville was different since the woman was flashing the gun hours before she shot her husband

    April 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  13. Karen Thomason

    CNN should help Marissa Alexander. It's not always enough to just air the story. Anderson, sometimes you have to help them, because nobody else can, or will. This is the most ridiculous case of abuse of the system, I have ever seen. She should be free, and her husband should be in jail. Until you aired the story, I had not heard anything about it. WHY? Please help this woman and keep her story in the news. She was railroaded and someone must be held accountable for this misguided effort at justice. She didn't even shoot her husband and it was self defense. Please don't let her go to prison. This is so wrong. And yes, being black, and a woman, I feel, had everything to do with her conviction. PLEASE DON"T LET FLORIDA GET AWAY WITH THIS>

    April 28, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  14. Atab

    More than anything, what I do NOT get, is how is firing your weapon, into the air, as a means of defense, a 20 year sentence? Ignoring all things in the case, if she and her husband just got into a fight and she fired a weapon into the air? The law just says, the two of you have opposing arguments and therefore the person taking the more "extreme" option is guilty AND its going to cost you 20 years? 20 years!!!!!!!! People accidentally kill people... these people are dead, and yet they go free? Oj was cleared of all murder charges, and then somehow found civilly guilty and therefore had to pay money for a crime he didn't commit!? what the heck is going on!?

    April 28, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • Tony Smith

      She hasn't been sentenced to 20 years. That's the maximum for the type of felony she committed.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:53 am |
      • tony tiano

        20 years with no possibility of parole is the mandatory sentence. Mandatory is not the same as maximum. The judge only has several choices, toss the verdict out as improper seeing as the jury only took 12 minutes, grant permission to her to appeal and allow her to go free on PR bond, declare a mistrial and set a new trial date.

        May 2, 2012 at 12:29 am |
      • zoebrain

        No, it's not the*maximum*, it's the *minimum*. The sentencing judge judge *has* to give her at least 20 years, without possibility of parole. .That's what "mandatory minimum" means.

        May 2, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  15. C D Romey

    It's about race AND gender. I am curious as to what the jury makeup was. I say that because with his record there is the greater likelihood that he intended to continue to attack her, that she did feel her life was in danger. The fact that she discharged the weapon into the celing or wall instead of him doubly gives the impression on self preservation. How in the world is she being charged when the killer of Trayvon Martin could not even get arrested for the longest! The men who crafted the Stand Your Ground law will get the message when men start getting shot to death by their wives for physically abusive behavior and start collecting those insurance policies! The women may even say "Go ahead and make my day"!

    April 28, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  16. Larry

    This is a perfect example of things gone wrong! She feared for her life. I pray for this woman that justice will be done! You Anderson has brougth it to light now, America stand up!

    April 28, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  17. Lee

    Goes to show how the law works different for some people.

    April 28, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  18. Williams

    This is an example of when the law doesn't protect the people its supposed to. It protects the angry vigilante types and that is not standing your ground. That is trying to be a superhero.

    April 27, 2012 at 11:25 pm |