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Florida woman given 20 years in domestic dispute gets bail for Thanksgiving

Marissa Alexander at a bond hearing Nov. 13.
Marissa Alexander at a bond hearing Nov. 13.Bob Self / Florida Times-Union via AP, file

A Florida woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a shot into the wall during a fight with her husband and now awaiting a new trial has been released on bail in time for Thanksgiving.

The plight of the woman, Marissa Alexander, drew national attention because of perceived parallels to the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense and was acquitted in July of second-degree murder.

Alexander was convicted last year of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and the trial judge said that he was bound to give her 20 years under state law because she had fired a gun.

An appeals court later found that the jury had been given incorrect instructions on her self-defense claim, and ordered a new trial.

A judge in Jacksonville on Wednesday granted Alexander release on $200,009 bail and ordered her to stay under house arrest and wear an electronic tracking device. The second trial is to begin in March.

In a statement, an organization of supporters, the Free Marissa Now Campaign, expressed relief and joy.

“We hope the decision means that the Florida justice system has relented in its vindictive, hostile and racist legal assault on this African American mother of three,” the statement said.

“Ms. Alexander has been victimized twice — once by her abusive ex-husband and again by the state of Florida, which has stolen nearly three years from her life for an act of self-defense that injured no one,” the organization said.

Alexander claimed that she feared for her life on Aug. 1, 2010, during a fight with her estranged husband, Rico Gray, who was under a restraining order and who she said had abused her.

She testified that she fled into a garage and got a gun but couldn’t leave the house because the garage door was stuck. She testified that she went back into the house, where Gray was with his two sons, and fired the shot.

Gray testified that Alexander was the aggressor and pointed the gun at him before she fired. Prosecutors said that Alexander aimed the gun at Gray and his two sons, and that the bullet she fired could have ricocheted and hit any of them.

The appeals court said that the trial judge was correct to block Alexander from invoking the Florida law known as Stand Your Ground, which generally removes a person’s duty to retreat when he or she is confronted with perceived deadly force. But the judge's instructions to the jury regarding elements of self-defense were deemed insufficient.