In May of 2012, Marissa Alexander, a 31-year old black women with a master’s degree and 3 children, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of three counts of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot during a dispute with her husband, Rico Gray.
Ms. Alexander’s troubles with her husband began long before the incident on August 1st, 2010 which led to her conviction.
Marissa Alexander married Rico Gray in June of 2010 when she was 6 months pregnant with his child. At the time of their union, Marissa was a 30-year-old divorced mother of twins, and Rico was a 35-year-old father of 4 children by 4 different women. The couple married despite the fact that there was a protective order in place barring certain contact between the two after Gray had assaulted Marissa shortly before she discovered her pregnancy. Gray, in a hearing on domestic violence charges against Marissa, is quoted as saying, “I got 5 baby mommas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one.”)
Lincoln Alexander, Marissa’s first husband, spoke to a reporter about the volatility of the relationship between Marissa and Rico:
[The reporter said] Lincoln told me that after Marissa filed for and received a restraining order against Gray in 2009, she learned she was pregnant and asked the court to amend the restraining order to remove the ban on her and Gray having contact, while maintaining the rest of the restraining order. This, Lincoln said, was because she wanted to be with Gray during her pregnancy. Why would she want a man who had beaten her in the past living with her again? This is why her defense had an expert on battered women testify at her trial — because domestic-violence victims often allow their abusers back into their lives. In May 2010 — while the restraining order was still in place — Marissa Alexander and Gray were married. Alexander gave birth to their baby in August 2010, but she didn’t stay in the marital home. For the last two months of her pregnancy, the motion to dismiss says that she lived with her mother, meaning that Alexander and Gray weren’t living in the same house when the incident occurred.
After Marissa gave birth and was released from the hospital, and while her newborn remained in the hospital, Marissa returned to the home she had previously shared with Gray. The next day after Marissa had apparently spent an uneventful night in the home with Gray and his two sons, Gray was looking through Alexander’s phone to see pictures of his daughter. Gray also saw text messages between Marissa and her ex-husband, Lincoln Alexander, which led to Gray accusing Marissa of infidelity, even going so far as to suggest Marissa’s newborn was actually fathered by Lincoln. The accusations led to a fight. What happens next is not clear because Rico has changed his account of the ensuing events several times.
Gray told prosecutors that he threatened to kill Marissa during their argument. Prosecutors quoted Rico:
“…he told Marissa he’d kill her if she ever cheated on him, and that on that night he said to her, “if I can’t have you, nobody going to have you.” He admitted he was “in a rage,” and said he told her that he knew people who could “do his dirt for him” — who could hurt her. Gray said he blocked her from leaving the bathroom, and when asked if he pushed Alexander into the bathroom door hard enough to crack it, he answered, “probably.” Asked whether he put his hands around her neck, Gray answered “not that particular day.”
Marissa managed to get away from Rico, out of the bathroom, and then fled to the garage to retrieve her gun. She said that she could not leave the house out of the garage because the garage door was not working. However, the door was found to be functional when police later arrived. Besides the door that was later found to be functional, another detail casts doubt upon Marissa’s claim that she feared for her life: she walked past the front and back doors of the house–exits which were not blocked by Gray–to get to the garage where her licensed gun was located in the glove compartment of her vehicle. The judge in Marissa’s case determined, “there is insufficient evidence that the Defendant reasonably believed deadly force was needed to prevent death or great bodily harm to herself,” and that the fact that she came back into the home, instead of leaving out the front or back door “is inconsistent with a person who is in genuine fear for her life.”
After Marissa confronted Rico and fired the shot, he and his children fled the home. Prosecutors maintained that the two children stood near their father when the shot rang out, while Marissa’s attorney, Kevin Cobbin, said the children had already run outside and were not near their father as the altercation took place in the kitchen. Initially, both children said they were in the kitchen with their father when Marissa fired the shot, but one son later recanted and said that he and his brother were in no danger. Ms. Alexander did not call the police and was only able to be removed from the home after the SWAT team arrived and surrounded the house. Alexander was arrested and later released on bail.
Four months after Marissa fired the warning shot, while out on bail and with a protective order in place, Alexander returned to Gray’s home and ended up in another fight with him. This time, however, her bail was denied and she pleaded no contest to domestic battery against Gray.
Prosecutors offered Alexander a deal of 3 years in prison with credit for time served for her actions on the night of August 1st, the night she fired the warning shot in the kitchen. Alexander refused the deal and instead decided to take her chances with a jury and use Florida’s Stand Your Ground law as her defense. The jury did not believe Alexander thought her life was in danger and they voted to convict. Marissa Alexander now sits in prison while her supporters attempt to get her sentence overturned, or at least, reduced.
The judge in Marissa’s case had to give her 20 years for her crimes due to Florida’s 10-20-Life mandatory sentencing law which dictates that anyone who fires a firearm during the commission of certain felonies will receive a mandatory 20 year sentence.
As often as these two acted to violate protective orders and assault each other, it may be that putting one of them in jail was the only way to prevent the other one from being killed–a fate that is not unheard of for victims of intimate partner violence.
Marissa is now in jail, hoping that she doesn’t have to spend the next two decades in prison for what amounts to a series of bad decisions which left no no one permanently maimed or dead.
What can black women learn from Marissa’s choices? For starters, women should avoid getting into relationships with men who have the kind of baggage Rico Gray had. Gray’s multitude of kids born out-of-wedlock was a red flag. Rico then assaulted Marissa early in their relationship, red flag number two. Marissa insisted on being involved with Rico after he had already assaulted her; blame her actions on her raging pregnancy hormones or just the naive hope that their relationship would improve once a child was brought into the world. Any way you look at Marissa’s story you can’t help but to determine that the tale is a sad one.