Marissa Alexander, 31 year old mother of three, lives in Florida, in a prison cell where she has languished for more than a year. In a jury deliberation of 12 solid minutes, she was found guilty of assault with no intent to inflict bodily injury. Her mandatory minimum sentence will be 20 years.
In 2010 Ms. Alexander, using her bathroom, saw the door fly open and her estranged husband burst in on her. A restraining order prohibited his appearance anywhere in the house. He grabbed his wife, according to her testimony, and attempted to strangle her. On at least one prior occasion he had beaten her so severely, she was hospitalized.
Rico Gray backed up almost all of his wife's story, adding that he had five "baby mamas" and he had "put his hands on" all but one of them. Ms. Alexander stated he flew into a rage over cell phone messages from her ex-husband. He agreed that he had told her he would kill her if she ever cheated on him.
She broke away from Mr. Gray and fled to the garage where she quickly realized she did not have the keys to her truck. But she did have a gun. She re-entered the kitchen and confronted Mr. Gray. According to her, when he spotted the gun in her hand he flew into a rage and threatened to murder her. She lifted the gun and fired one bullet into the ceiling. Mr. Gray, accompanied by two of his children, ran out of the house--uninjured.
When he exited the house, he drove to the police station and filed a complaint against his wife, claiming she pointed the gun at him and at his children and said she would kill all of them. Ms. Alexander was immediately arrested.
Note the distinctions here between George Zimmerman's treatment and that of Ms. Alexander.
Ms. Alexander's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charges on the basis of Florida's infamous stand your ground law. This law has been widely cited in defense of Zimmerman's actions the night he shot Trayvon Martin. The law specifies that, whether you are in your own home or on the street, you have no obligation to flee a dangerous situation and are entitled to use as much force as you feel necessary to defend yourself. Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Senterfitt issued an incomprehensible ruling on Ms. Alexander's right to immunity from prosecution under stand your ground--namely that the law did not apply because Ms. Alexander could have fled her home.
Rico Gray meanwhile changed his story, claiming to have lied about being a violent partner and threatening to kill Ms. Alexander. He lives, he claims, in fear of her being released and coming after him. CNN asked for an interview with Mr. Gray but he demanded payment for the pleasure, payment CNN says its internal rules interdict.
In California alone, hundreds of women serve time currently for killing a physically abusive partner. No comprehensive statistics are available as to precisely how many women nationwide go to jail for defending themselves against murderous mates. The law generally assumes that women have the responsibility as well as the ability to walk. Without access to high priced attorneys, a woman stands little chance of winning on a battered wife defense. Here's an excerpt from a report on how difficult it is for women to prevail in spite of overwhelming evidence of torture and terror inflicted over years:
Brenda Clubine, who filed forty-six police reports against her husband, told of being stabbed, having her nose broken, and having the skin torn from her face. Brenda Aris recited how her husband, after having severely beaten her in the face, "put his hands around her neck and said, "I've had it with you. I don't believe I'm going to let you live till morning'." On Tuesday, September 17, 1991, ten state legislators spent four hours in the confines of the California Institution for Women (CIW) listening to testimony of battered women who killed their abusers. Other women told of similar brutality ("the undercover cop's wife whose husband ordered her during their last fight to take off her rings so no one could identify her body") and of failed attempts to find help ("the housewife ... whose priest told her to counter her husband's beatings with love").
Despite their respective histories of continual abuse, many California women convicted of killing their batterers were not allowed to present evidence at their trials of the repeated abuse and terrorization by the men they killed. https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&doctype=cite&docid=3+S.+Cal.+Rev.+L.+%26+Women's+Stud.+303&key=750bc03fe6a2f53b169e7fd1a1fbcf9c
Although the report is outdated, the situation described continues to this day, as this article from 2011 demonstrates:
A few years ago, a young woman named Natasha shot and killed her boyfriend in the apartment they were sharing. He had trapped her in the bedroom and was about to launch into another of what had become weekly "beatdowns", where he would hit her with a closed fist. Prior to the killing, the beatings had become more severe and more frequent, as were the threats that he was going to kill her. None of this seemed to count for much at her trial.
Natasha was charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm (which was her boyfriend's) and was ultimately convicted of manslaughter. She was given a 15-year sentence and is now in prison, along with countless other battered women who found little protection from the criminal justice system when they needed it, but who felt the full force of its prosecutorial might when they took steps to protect themselves.
Every state in America has a self-defense law that allows an individual to use deadly force in situations where a threat to his or her well-being is imminent. If an intruder enters your home with a loaded gun, thereby posing an imminent threat to your life, you're allowed to use deadly force to protect yourself. When the intruder with the loaded gun (metaphorical or otherwise) is your intimate partner and living in the house with you, the imminence law frequently fails to apply – mostly because of the perception that the abused woman could have, or at least should have, found a more palatable way of ending the violent relationship. (The Double Imprisonment of Battered Women
By Sadhbh Walshe, Guardian UK
23 March 2012)
From Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act Press Release – June 6, 2011:
• An estimated nine of 10 women in New York's prisons are survivors of abuse, 75% were victims of severe intimate partner violence, and eight in 10 experienced serious abuse during childhood.
• 67% of women sent to prison in 2005 for killing someone close to them were abused by the victim of their crime.
• 93% of women convicted of killing intimate partners in 1992 and 1993 (the most recent statistics of this kind to date) had been physically and sexually abused by an intimate partner during adulthood.
• Of the 38 women convicted of murder and released between 1985 and 2003, not a single one returned to prison for a new commitment within a 36-month follow-up period.
• 80% of women sent to prison for a violent felony in 2009 were first-time offenders.
• 65% of women in New York's prisons are African American and Latina, even though women of color comprise only 30% of the state's total female population.
Far too many public "servants" from both sides of our narrow political spectrum are working to plunge women deeper into dependency on men and the decisions of men. We kid ourselves if we imagine we've come even part of the distance we need to travel to become full-fledged citizens with rights equal to those of men. Women and people of color from the lower economic strata can expect primarily injustice from the police and the courts. The laws, written to protect property, in particular the property of those who own lots of it, do not accommodate the poor in general and women and people of color in particular.
Ask Marissa Alexander. Better yet, go to this Web site to sign a petition demanding a new trial for her: http://www.change.org/petitions/free-marissa-alexander