NEWSFLASH: Marissa Alexander Eligible for Release in January

It looks like Marissa Alexander, the Florida mother of three whose criminal case has made national headlines, will not have to go to trial after taking a plea deal. She plead guilty to three counts of aggravated assault with a weapon and was given a three-year sentence, but since she has already served 1,030 days, that means she will be eligible for release on Jan. 27.

Alexander rallied anti-domestic violence activists in 2012 when she was sentenced to 20 years for firing what she called a warning shot into a wall to scare her abusive estranged husband, Rico Gray, during a domestic violence dispute. Gray had already been arrested twice for domestic battery and was on probation. No one was hurt in the incident, but the jury convicted Alexander after just 12 minutes of deliberation.

Alexander invoked Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law in her defense, because she believed if she hadn’t fired the warning shot Gray would have killed her, but the 1st District Court of Appeal denied her claim. As this happened in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing, Florida’s legal system drew much criticism from social-justice advocates for what they believe was an inconsistent application of Stand Your Ground, which had an effect on the acquittal of Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. The contrast of Alexander’s conviction with the Zimmerman verdict highlighted how the justice system is often skewed against black defendants, with blacks more likely to be convicted and more likely to have longer prison stays.

Alexander isn’t completely out of the legal woods yet; there is a second count against her, referred to as an “open plea.” This second count could still result in a five-year sentence at a hearing on the day she’s scheduled to be released.

Photo of Marissa Alexander from Flickr user Abayomi Azikiwe under license from Creative Commons 2.0.


Associate editor of Ms. magazine