Commentary: An Odd Sense of Justice in Florida

The effort to prosecute Marissa Alexander in a legitimate self-defense case is a travesty of justice.

Posted: 03/03/2014 02:47 PM EST
Commentary: An Odd Sense of Justice in Florida

There is a painfully strange system of justice in the state of Florida.

A Jacksonville woman who was battered by her husband fired a warning shot in self-defense while being pursued by him. The state of Florida has responded to the plight of this 33-year-old African-American woman by seeking to put her in prison for 60 years, which is tantamount to a life sentence.

This is the handiwork of the office of State Attorney Angela Corey. For those who may have forgotten, Corey is the head of the prosecution team that pursued second-degree murder charges against George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin and first-degree murder charges against Michael Dunn in the death of Jordan Davis.

Corey was unsuccessful in obtaining guilty convictions in cases where unarmed Black teenagers were shot to death by overzealous men with firearms. Yet she seems perfectly comfortable with the prospect of sending to prison Marissa Alexander, a woman who was in fact standing her ground while being pursued by a dangerous man. In this case, there was no injury to the man at the center of this controversy.

“It’s unimaginable that a woman acting in self-defense, who injured no one, can be given what amounts to a life sentence,” said Helen Gilbert, a spokeswoman for Free Marissa Now. “This must send chills down the spine of every woman and everyone who cares about women and every woman in an abusive relationship.”

In what can only be described as an astonishing development, Alexander was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Circuit Judge James Daniel. The judge sentenced Alexander to three 20-year terms in prison, but stipulated that they be served concurrently.

But that conviction was overturned by an appeals court because Daniel had erred in requiring Alexander to prove that she was acting in self-defense. Instead, Daniel said Alexander was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was battered by her husband.

The strategy in the prosecution of Alexander is completely baffling. If ever there were a legitimate case of self-defense, it is the one being ignored by the state attorney’s office.

It is a shame to see a woman vilified in an effort to protect herself. It’s a shame that Corey’s office is spending so much time on prosecuting Alexander when it should have worked harder at convicting Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman, the two men whose shooting sprees have created a national outrage.

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(Photo: Courtesy of Justice For Marissa Alexdander)

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