Marissa Alexander, the Jacksonville, Fla., mother serving a 20-year prison sentence for firing what she says was a warning shot to scare off her abusive husband, is getting a new trial.
State Attorney Angela Corey filed aggravated assault charges against Alexander that come with a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence when a gun is involved after the Aug. 1, 2010, incident.
The shooting caused no injuries, but Alexander was found guilty by a six-person jury on March 16, 2012. The sentencing judge said his hands were tied when he ordered as punishment two decades behind bars.
The First District Court of Appeal in Florida ruled Thursday that "the jury instructions on self-defense were erroneous" and ordered a retrial, reversing a May 2012 lower court decision that denied a retrial.
Bruce Zimet, Alexander's attorney, told U.S. News he was pleased with the ruling. "We're trying to get a hold of Marissa right now, because she's in prison, to let her know," he said.
Corey quickly announced her intention to retry the case.
"The defendant's conviction was reversed on a legal technicality," said a statement released by Corey's office. "The case will be back in Circuit Court in the Fourth Judicial Circuit at the appropriate time."
Corey was widely ridiculed for her harsh approach to Alexander's case. She initially offered Alexander three years behind bars as part of a plea bargain, an offer that was turned down. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., frequently urges freedom for Alexander and confronted Corey in an emotional exchange after the verdict was announced.
"Three years is not mercy and 20 years is not justice," Brown told Corey outside the courtroom.
"I do know that [Corey] has shown absolutely no compassion," Brown told U.S. News in July. "Where was the common sense? I hate to say this, but you wouldn't expect this from a female."
Corey received national attention during the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder July 13, after successfully claiming self-defense. In light of that verdict, Alexander's case attracted an intense bout of media interest.
By all accounts Alexander had recently returned to her home from the hospital, after having given birth to the couple's daughter, when husband Rico Gray arrived at the house. In a disposition given before trial, he admitted to abusing many women.
"I got five baby mammas, and I [hit] every last one of them, except for one," he said.
Gray was arrested in 2006 and 2009 for domestic battery. In 2006 the charge was dropped and in 2009 he received probation, The Florida Times-Union reported. Alexander was granted a restraining order against Gray after his 2009 arrest.
On the day Alexander fired the gun, Gray said, the couple got into an argument and he refused to let her leave a bathroom. "[S]he got the bathroom door closed and she locked it, so I were beating on it. [I] was there waiting for her to come out of the bathroom," Gray said in his deposition.
She managed to escape the bathroom and went to the home's garage, Gray said. "She came back through the doors and she had a gun. And she said, 'You need to leave.' I told her, I ain't leaving until you talk to me... and I started walking towards her and she shot in the air," he said.
Corey maintains Alexander did not act in self-defense by shooting the gun. "She was angry," Corey told The Huffington Post last year. "She was not in fear."
But Brown says Corey is notorious among her constituents for overcharging. Alexander, the congresswoman said during the July interview, hadn't seen her infant – who is currently in her ex-husband's custody – since she was jailed.
Now the appeals court says that's a matter a new jury should decide for itself.
"For appellant, she testified, the firing of the gun was the culmination of a year-and-a-half's abuse at her husband's hands," the court ruled. "[T]he trial court improperly transmuted the prosecution's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt into a burden on the appellant to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, depriving her of a trial under the correct rule."
Read the appeals court ruling: