Angela Corey, Prosecutor of Zimmerman and Dunn, Is Feeling the Heat From Blacks in Florida

The Florida lawyer is now the subject of criticism from African-Americans after her prosecution of the killers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

Posted: 03/12/2014 02:48 PM EDT
Prosecutor of Zimmerman and Dunn Is Now a Lightning Rod

In the aftermath of the verdict of Michael Dunn in the death of Jordan Davis in Florida, there is one figure that is coming under increased criticism from African-American elected officials and others: Angela B. Corey.

Corey, the State Attorney in Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, has prosecuted a far higher number of young African-American men than her predecessor and has put a disproportionate number of Black men on death row, her critics charge.

In addition, she has been criticized for her office’s decision to charge Marissa Alexander, a Black woman who fired a warning shot to deter an abusive husband, and have her sentenced to 60 years in prison. Corey was the prosecutor who decided to charge George Zimmerman with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, when many officials suggest that a jury might have convicted him of a lesser charge rather than finding him not guilty.

"There is a major problem with how she applies the law, particularly when it comes to people of color, who seem to be disproportionately affected by these decisions," said Alan B. Williams, a member of the state’s House of Representatives and chairman of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, in an interview with BET.com.

"Of course, she is to be commended for bringing the George Zimmerman case to trial," Williams said. "But there are still inadequacies that exist in her application of not only Stand Your Ground, but also with the large number of young African-American men who are being charged by the state in her jurisdiction. It's not just a concern in her district, but also around the state and around the country."

The American Civil Liberties Union indicated that Corey's office has sent 21 people to death row in Florida in the last five years, a figure that exceeds any other prosecutor in the state. Critics of the state attorney point to the fact that her jurisdiction, which includes Duval, Nassau and Clay counties including Jacksonville accounts for less than 7 percent of the state's population. About 66 percent of those sent to death row are African-American in a state where Black citizens account for 16 percent of the population.

Many African-American officials and community leaders have criticized Corey for going for seeking a first-degree murder conviction a charge with high standards in the case of Michael Dunn in the killing of teenage, unarmed Jordan Davis after an argument over loud music. Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted murder, but the judge ruled a mistrial on the murder charges after a deadlocked jury failed to convict him. The jury might have reached a guilty verdict on a lesser charge, they contend.

"She charges almost knowing that she can’t win," said Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick Jr., the pastor of the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville, in an interview with BET.com.

"I wouldn’t go as far as to say that she rigged it, but she has a track record with African-Americans that opens the window of that kind of speculative discussion," said McKissick, who is also a member of the board of the National Action Network.

"I believe most people think she is overzealous and that she has not been very fair to African-Americans," he added. "When you look at the Marissa Alexander case, for example, she comes off as somebody who will use the law, or manipulate the technicalities of the law, for her own self-aggrandizement. It's almost like she's trying to teach Black folk a lesson."

The Marissa Alexander case has ignited bitter passions among many African-Americans in Florida and beyond.

In May 2012, Corey prosecuted the 31-year-old mother for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and obtained a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison, which generated controversy in the midst of the Trayvon Martin case. Alexander argued that she fired a warning shot from a gun she was licensed to carry to defend herself from a life-threatening beating from her self-admitted abusive estranged husband, Rico Gray.

No one was hurt by the shot, which lodged in the ceiling. Still Corey prosecuted her and a jury convicted her and she was sentenced for 20 years in prison. Last September, an appellate court ordered a new trial and Corey is now seeking a sentence that would put Alexander in jail for 60 years.

"In the Marissa Alexander case, she is going for these extra years on a retrial," McKissick said. "But where is the compassion? Where is the sense of objectivity in dealing with the law?"

Corey’s office did not respond to a request from BET.com for an interview.

Nonetheless, some prominent African-American figures credit Corey with bringing charges against Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, saying that there was little pressure outside of the state's Black community to do so.

"I honestly think that no other state attorney would have prosecuted Zimmerman," said Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for the parents of Trayvon Martin, speaking with BET.com.

"She made a decision to prosecute and do the right thing based on the evidence," Crump said. "A lot of people would not have gotten involved in bringing Zimmerman to justice. Every lawyer has different strategy. Hers might be controversial. But she certainly has her own strategy."

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Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

(Photo: Gary Green/The Orlando Sentinel-Pool/Getty Images)

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