Marissa Alexander, the Jacksonville, Fla., mother sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she says was a warning shot at her abusive husband, remains behind bars more than a year after a judge tossed her "Stand Your Ground" defense. But with George Zimmerman's acquittal Sunday on murder charges, her cause is picking up steam.
Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., is among Alexander's most vocal supporters. She's also a fierce critic of State Attorney Angela Corey, the elected prosecutor who presided over both cases.
"I do know that she has shown absolutely no compassion," Brown told U.S. News. "Where was the common sense? I hate to say this, but you wouldn't expect this from a female."
On July 31, 2010, Alexander – who had given birth days before – fired what she describes as a warning shot during a fight with her husband. Two children were inside the Jacksonville home when she pulled the trigger, but no one was harmed.
Alexander claimed self-defense under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows citizens to defend themselves when attacked. But a judge rejected that argument. Alexander was convicted of aggravated assault by a six-person jury and sentenced to 20 years in prison on May 11, 2012. The presiding judge said his hands were tied by state law, which mandates a minimum sentence of 20 years for firing a gun in the commission of a felony.
"It's hard to believe that a female could get 20 years for firing a warning shot at an abusive husband who beat her," Brown said. "There was a restraining order the day it happened. She's a person who had a master's degree, who worked her way through school."
Corey threw the book at Alexander after she refused a three-year prison stint as part of a plea deal. The congresswoman remains indignant about the "unbelievable" offer, which she said would have compelled Alexander to sacrifice custody of her newborn and accept a felony conviction.
"She hasn't seen her baby since [her conviction]," Brown said. "That's cruel." Alexander's family also hasn't been allowed to see the baby, she said.
Brown confronted Corey after the verdict was announced last year. "Three years is not mercy and 20 years is not justice," an emotional Brown told the prosecutor in a scene videotaped by WJXT-TV, saying a recent murder case ended with a 15-year sentence. "If there ever was a 'Stand Your Ground' case, it was this one."
Corey calmly dismissed the critique.
"Congresswoman, I showed her mercy when I sat down with her," she said.
In a 2012 interview with The Grio, Corey chided critics and the media for being, in her view, overeager to take Alexander's side. "A person's propensity for violence is only one factor that would have allowed her to use 'Stand Your Ground' at the moment when she fired," the prosecutor explained. "If that's what you're saying, she can walk into a room and just see him and shoot [based on past abuse]." Corey said there was no physical evidence of a confrontation before the gun fired.
Kevin Cobbin, a defense attorney who worked on Alexander's trial, told U.S. News that a motion recently filed by Alexander – requesting bail pending the outcome of her appeal – was denied.
"We're going to keep saying that the courts did something wrong in the case," Cobbin said. "We're all hopeful." According to Cobbin, one member of Alexander's jury was African-American and another appeared non-white.
Attorney Bruce Zimet is handling Alexander's appeal. He told U.S. News that all attorneys working the case are doing so pro-bono. The appeals court has not scheduled a hearing date, he said.
Zimet released a brief statement after the Zimmerman verdict, saying "Marissa and her family have of course watched the Zimmerman trial with interest." But, the statement said, "it would be inappropriate to comment" on that case as it relates to their own.