Stand Your Ground cases make precedent murky
JACKSONVILLE (FOX 13) - The George Zimmerman trial was a flash point on guns, race, and Florida justice. But some of the protestors who contend the case showed how Florida's self-defense laws favor the shooter may have missed the story of Marissa Alexander.
She is a mother from Jacksonville who was sentenced to 20 years - she says for standing her ground without shooting anyone.
"Put George Zimmerman in [my] shoes, he probably would have been convicted in a 2-day trial," she said. "I was in fear so this was the best I could do."
In 2010, she said her estranged husband abused her by ripping her shirt, and throwing her over a bed when she was pregnant. Then, nine days after she gave birth to their daughter, her husband showed up at their home. Marissa said he was angry after reading some of her text messages and he threatened to kill her. She ran into their garage but said she could not leave.
"The garage wouldn't go up. [I] didn't have the key. It was unbelievable - like something out of a movie," she said.
She took the gun she legally owned, walked back into her own home, and said she fired a warning shot into the wall to scare him away. But she was arrested and later sentenced to 20 years. Due to improper jury instructions, Marissa was given a chance at another trial. But instead of seeking 20 years, the state sought 60. So Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal, served her time and got released.
Her story helped drive a hot debate at the capitol over Florida's self-defense laws, including the controversial stand your ground law.
State lawmakers passed a plan to make it easier to claim self-defense. Instead of the shooters having to prove they were in fear for their lives, prosecutors would have to prove they were not.
"Anytime the state charges you with a crime, they have the burden of proof, all the way from arrest to the jury room," said Marion Hammer with the National Rifle Association.
But there are two sides to this debate, just as there are two sides to the case of Marissa Alexander. Her ex-husband claimed she struck him and had a picture of his swollen eye. Also, that shot that Marissa Alexander calls a warning shot flew into the wall behind him.
"The choice I made that day, I wouldn't change it. It was the best I could do," she said.
Under the changes passed by the legislature, she may not have even gone on trial. If Governor Scott signs the changes into law, they will kick in immediately.