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.
Zimet told U.S. News that "it's not a good time to discuss the issue" in depth.
Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., has received a steady stream of emails urging him to pardon Alexander, according to documents provided to U.S. News by the governor's office. Several of those emails were written by women who said they survived abusive relationships.
A 60-year-old woman wrote to Scott that her husband tried to kill her. "[W]omen shouldn't be punished for trying to protect themselves," she wrote. "I think her choices were fairly logical."
Another Florida woman said she was a victim of domestic violence and that her partner claimed he "could have killed me and served less time." She added, "Had we gotten into a knock down drag out and I killed him, I would have gone to jail."
But the governor hasn't yet received a formal pardon request, spokesman John Tupps told U.S. News.
"We have not received any official request for a pardon," according to Tupps. "There is a clemency process that is handled by the Office of Executive Clemency where those convicted of a crime are afforded the opportunity to request a pardon from a majority of the Florida Board of Executive Clemency," which currently consists of four state officials: Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Corey has faced withering criticism during and since the failed prosecution of George Zimmerman for murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Unlike Alexander, Zimmerman refused a "Stand Your Ground" hearing before his trial and his lawyers didn't directly invoke the law, but instructions provided to the jury did provide guidance on it.
Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz publicly feuded with Corey during the Zimmerman trial. In April he accused her of unlawfully concealing evidence from defense attorneys and she allegedly retaliated by calling the dean of the Harvard Law School to recommend discipline for the respected scholar.
On Sunday, Dershowitz said during a Fox News interview that Corey should be disbarred.
"She was among the most irresponsible prosecutors I've seen in 50 years of litigating cases, and believe me, I've seen good prosecutors, bad prosecutors, but rarely have I seen one as bad as this prosecutor," Dershowitz said. "She submitted an affidavit that was, if not perjurious, completely misleading."
A spokesperson for Corey's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment by U.S. News on Dershowitz's charge and Brown's criticism.
Former Justice Department prosecutor Larry Klayman recently convened a symbolic "citizens' grand jury," which "indicted" Corey on charges of withholding evidence. "Corey will now be tried and likely convicted for her alleged crimes," says an announcement on the website of Klayman's pro-government accountability organization, Freedom Watch.
A more credible threat to Corey comes from a self-described whistle-blower, Ben Kruidbos, who says he was fired by Corey for exposing at a June pre-trial hearing that her office withheld evidence from Zimmerman's attorneys. Reuters reported Tuesday that he is filing a lawsuit over the termination. Corey's office pointed the news agency to Kruidbos's termination letter, which cites "deliberate, willful and unscrupulous actions" as the cause of his firing.
The National Review reported Wednesday that Corey had a notoriously bad relationship with her predecessor, who fired her before she won his job in a 2008 election. She reportedly fired 20 percent of the office's staff after assuming power and lobbied to prevent her former boss from landing a job.
Aside from Alexander's highly controversial conviction, Corey was also criticized for prosecuting 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez as an adult for murder in 2011. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Brown, the congresswoman, said Alexander "should get a pardon, clemency, whatever; she should be out." As for Corey, she recommends that voters give her the boot when she's up for re-election in 2016.
"This is not the only case, people in my community tell me stories all the time," Brown said. "We had a prosecutor before Angela Corey and we didn't have these problems. It's very important that people understand the power of the ballot box."