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Another 'stand your ground' case in spotlight

4:39 AM, Jul 24, 2013   |    comments
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There's another face appearing on protest signs and pamphlets at Trayvon Martin rallies across the country.

The story of Marissa Alexander, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, is gaining national attention through online petitions, social media and protests in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman acquittal.

The 32-year-old mother of three from Jacksonville fired what she says was a warning shot at a wall during an argument with her husband, Rico Gray, in 2010. Gray was not wounded.

Alexander had a protective order against her husband at the time because he had beaten her in the past. She had no criminal record.

Her lawyers tried to get the case dismissed before trial under Florida's "stand your ground" law, but the court rejected the argument, saying Alexander fired out of anger, not fear for her life.

More than 20 states have "stand your ground" laws, which generally allow the use of lethal force for self-defense without the duty of trying to escape.

Alexander's lawyers have filed an appeal of her 2012 conviction.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson met with Alexander for an hour on July 16 and phoned Florida State Attorney Angela Corey to discuss Alexander's charge and sentence.

Corey, who prosecuted Alexander and also filed second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, answered Jackson's questions about the prison sentence and reiterated the prosecution's case, said Jackelyn Barnard, the director of communications for the Florida State Attorney's Office.

The same day, Attorney General Eric Holder questioned "stand your ground" laws in a speech to the NAACP.

The Zimmerman and Alexander cases illustrate how "stand your ground" laws are applied unfairly to racial minorities in the U.S. legal system, said Janaye Ingram, the Washington, D.C., bureau chief of Al Sharpton's National Action Network, at a vigil for Trayvon Martin on Saturday.

Although Zimmerman's defense team didn't use a "stand your ground" defense in his trial, the case has prompted discussion about racial profiling and self-defense.

"Marissa Alexander can fire a warning shot after documented cases of domestic violence and get 20 years," Ingram said. "Trayvon Martin can be killed for doing nothing wrong, and his killer goes free."

Florida Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei told USA TODAY that much of the discussion about the Alexander case is inaccurate - and social media are partly to blame.

"What's fueling the particular attention is a false narrative that's getting repeated as if it's actually true," he said.

Mantei said Alexander rejected a plea deal that would have gotten her only three years in prison. Instead, she decided to go to trial and was sentenced to 20 years under a Florida minimum-sentencing law regarding the use of firearms.

He said Alexander pointed her gun in the direction of Gray and his two children, who feared for their lives, fled the house and immediately called 911. The bullet came close to hitting Gray's head, the documents say.

Alexander's face was seen on protest signs and pamphlets at vigils for Trayvon Martin across the country Saturday. Rallies calling for Alexander's conviction to be overturned have been held in Oakland and Jacksonville. Petitions on change.org, whitehouse.gov, moveon.org and thepetitionsite.org have thousands of signatures.

A Facebook page titled "Stand Your Ground: Justice for Marissa Alexander" has gotten more than 22,000 "likes" since April 2012.

"I think people thought it was an injustice from the beginning," Kevin Cobbin, the attorney who defended Alexander at her trial, told USA TODAY. "People are hearing about it more and seeing some of the other things that are happening in the legal system, and it just does not make sense."

Prosecutors say Alexander may not have feared for her life at the time. Rather than fleeing, she went to the garage to get her gun.

While she was free on bail, another altercation between the two left Gray with a bloody, swollen eye, according to court documents. Alexander told police that Gray had struck her and that the top of her head was swollen, but she had no visible injuries, a police report said.

"I understand all the attention 'stand your ground' laws are getting, but this is a particularly lousy example to choose," Mantei said, noting that the jury found Alexander guilty after less than 15 minutes of deliberation.

Jordan Friedman, USA TODAY

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