Marissa Alexander Gets a New Trial; Will It Make a Difference?

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By William Peacock, Esq. on September 27, 2013 4:25 PM

While the George Zimmerman trial was working its way through the courts, another case, with a more sympathetic defendant, also claimed to Stand [her] Ground. While Zimmerman escaped prosecution under the law, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years for firing a single "warning" shot at her allegedly abusive ex-husband.

Her "Stand Your Ground" defense was denied before trial, and earlier this week, the appellate court affirmed that holding. At trial, she asserted self-defense, amongst other theories, but the jury was decidedly unconvinced, taking only 12 minutes to convict her. Now, an appeals court has reversed the conviction, holding that the wrong standard for self defense was applied.

But even with a new trial, will the outcome be the same?

Her Side of the Story

Marissa Alexander said that her husband, Rico Gray, accused her of infidelity with her ex-husband, broke through the bathroom door, and grabbed her by the neck. The two struggled before she broke free.

Alexander then ran to the garage, tried to escape (but couldn't open the garage door), and, fearing for her safety, grabbed her properly permitted gun from her vehicle. When she re-entered the house, Gray allegedly stated, "B----, I'll kill you," leading her to fire a single warning shot.

Her witnesses testified about past domestic violence incidents, including one which led to a protective order keeping Gray away from her. There was also testimony from others familiar with the couple's relationship and her injuries. Her final witness testified that she met the criteria for a battered wife.

The Other Side of the Story

Though it played little part in the appeal, Judge Wetherell, in concurrence, took pains to highlight the other side of the story.

Alexander did not live in the marital home. She arrived on the prior evening, parked her car in the garage, and stayed the night. Rico Gray arrived the following morning and made breakfast for the family, including his two children. She handed her phone to him to show pictures of their newborn child, who was still in the hospital. Gray observed texts from her ex-husband, Lincoln Alexander.

A verbal confrontation over the paternity of the child ensued before she ran to the garage, bypassing the unobstructed front and rear doors to the house. She then grabbed her gun, returned to the house, and took aim at Gray, whose two sons were standing next to him. The bullet barely missed.

While on bail, she was ordered to have no contact with the victims. But she did, on multiple occasions, ending with a drive to Gray's new home, where she allegedly attacked him in front of the children, leading to an arrest and revocation of her bond.

Erroneous Jury Instructions

The grounds for reversal were unrelated to Stand Your Ground; a pre-trial Stand Your Ground hearing remains off-limits on remand. Instead, the court ruled that the jury instructions provided required Alexander to prove that Gray committed aggravated assault beyond a reasonable doubt, when the true standard requires the defendant to only raise a reasonable doubt of her guilt.

The Florida self-defense standard was clarified in Montijo v. State:

"When a defendant claims self-defense, the State maintains the burden of proving the defendant committed the crime and did not act in self-defense ... The burden never shifts to the defendant to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, he must simply present enough evidence to support giving the instruction."

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