Over the last year, Angela Corey has been at the center of nationwide attention. As the Florida state attorney whose office prosecuted George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin and Michael Dunn in the death of Jordan Davis, her actions have been watched by an entire country in some of the most high-profile cases in recent times.
But Corey has also been criticized by a host of African-American elected officials and community and civic leaders, who have portrayed her as being overzealous in many cases involving Black defendants. Most stinging have been the criticisms of her in the case of Marissa Alexander, the Florida woman who fired a shot to dissuade her estranged husband from attacking her.
Corey contends that the criticisms of her, specifically in the case of Alexander, are unfounded and that her critics know little about the true facts of the case.
“Marissa was the one pulling the trigger,” Corey said, in an interview with BET.com. Corey added that the gun was fired in a room where her children, ages 10 and 13, were present. “Thank God it didn’t hit them. But she was on the trigger-pulling side of the gun.”
In May 2012, Corey prosecuted the 31-year-old mother of two 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 Alexander 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 seeking a sentence that would put Alexander in jail for 60 years.
Corey said the case is widely misunderstood and that Alexander, in the midst of an argument, had walked to another room to get a gun. In firing the shot, she placed the two youths in danger as well as her estranged husband.
“The sworn testimony, the physical evidence all seems to be forgotten, even though they are available on public record,” Corey said. “The 911 record does not lie. There is evidence that corroborate the facts.”
Many African-American officials and community leaders have criticized Corey for seeking a first-degree murder conviction — a charge with high standards — in the case of Michael Dunn in the killing of unarmed teen 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.
Corey said the charges are largely a result of what a grand jury decides. Furthermore, she said, she is guided by the facts of a case and not by the racial calculus that are often discussed in the media and on the Internet.
“We can’t erase the Internet,” Corey said. “Everybody reads tweets and blogs, and they accept what they read as fact, I’m not sure how to stop that tide. But that’s why we try cases in court.”
She added: “We took Dunn’s case to a grand jury and it was decided by that jury,” she said. “The charge has nothing to do with the ultimate verdict.”
Despite the criticisms of some about the charges against Zimmerman, her decision to prosecute the onetime neighborhood watch volunteer in the death of the unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has been applauded by many, including lawyers in the Black community.
“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.”
Suggestions that her office overcharges defendants, she said, imply “that prosecutors are guaranteeing justice with some kind of 100 percent money-back guarantee. The prosecutor’s job is to seek justice. It is done on the basis of evidence, not what people think we should do.”
The level of criticism of her office has become highly frustrating, she said, adding that she no longer reads media stories that take her to task.
“Having started in this system 32 years ago, it’s unbelievably frustrating,” she said. “I try not to read any of this stuff because it’s very discouraging to us and to our lawyers. But it doesn’t prevent us from going for the truth.”
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(Photo: AP Photo/Rick Wilson)