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New trial set for Florida woman given 20 years for firing shot in domestic dispute

Marissa Alexander appers in a Duval County courtroom in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2012.
Marissa Alexander appers in a Duval County courtroom in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2012.Bob Self / Florida Times-Union via Reuters

A Florida woman serving 20 years in prison for firing a shot into the wall during a fight with her husband will get a new trial in March and can argue next week to be released on bail, a judge ruled Thursday.

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 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.

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 and fired the shot.

Gray testified that Alexander was the aggressor and pointed the gun at him before she fired. She was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and the trial judge said he was bound by state law to give her 20 years.

In September, a state appeals court ordered a new trial. The appeals court said that the trial judge gave the jury incorrect instructions on self-defense.

It said, however, that the 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.

State prosecutors said, and the trial judge agreed, that Alexander acted in anger, and showed by going back inside the house that she was not afraid for her life.

Alexander’s bail hearing was set for Nov. 8, and her retrial for March 31.

Alexander’s supporters want state prosecutors to drop the case. Prosecutors have said that Alexander aimed the gun at the man and his two sons, and that the bullet she fired could have ricocheted and hit any of them.

Prosecutors said Thursday that they would oppose bail.

“The State Attorney’s Office has no intention of dropping the very serious charges against the defendant,” Jackelyn Bernard, a spokeswoman for the state prosecutor handling the case, said in a statement. “The SAO will continue to pursue justice for our two child victims and their father who were endangered by the shot the defendant fired at them.”

A lawyer for Alexander did not immediately answer a request for comment.