Florida "warning shot" case ends in plea deal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A woman accused of firing a gun at her estranged husband and his two sons in what she said was self-defense took a plea deal in a case that first gained attention because her attorneys used Florida's "stand your ground" law in her defense, arguing that she feared for her life before discharging the weapon.

Marissa Alexander was charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for the 2010 shooting of Rico Gray. Under the deal with prosecutors, she would receive credit for the 1,030 days she has already served. Alexander's chief attorney, Bruce Zimet, said his client agreed to the deal after it was offered.

"I think from our client's standpoint, she wanted to get this behind her and move on with her life and her family," Zimet said.

Alexander's case was willing to accept 65 more days in jail as part of the plea deal.

"No one's doing cartwheels going back to jail, but this was her means of getting the case behind her," Zimet said.

Had the 34-year-old Alexander, of Jacksonville, been convicted of all counts at her second trial in the case - set to begin Dec. 1 - she would have had to serve 60 years because of Florida's minimum-mandatory sentencing rules when a firearm is involved.

According to Alexander, her estranged husband, Gray, accused her of having an affair and questioned whether their 9-day-old baby was his. She says she locked herself in the bathroom until he broke through the door and shoved her to the floor. She says she tried to escape through the garage but the door wouldn't open. She retrieved a gun from a car, went back inside and says she fired a "warning shot" after Gray said he would kill her - an account backed by one of his sons. No one was injured.

During her first trial, the jury deliberated just 12 minutes before delivering a guilty verdict. Under Florida law, anyone who fires a gun during the commission of a felony is subject to a minimum of 20 years in prison, which was Alexander's original sentence. After serving 21 months, Alexander's conviction was overturned by an appeals court judge, who said the previous ruling had incorrectly placed the burden on Alexander to prove that she was abused by Gray.

At the first trial, her attorneys said Florida's "stand your ground" law was applicable in Alexander's case. The law says individuals have no duty to retreat from a place where they have a right to be and may use any level of force, including lethal, if they reasonably believe they face an imminent and immediate threat of serious bodily harm or death.

Those laws in around half of the 50 states came under renewed scrutiny in 2012 following the shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin, in a Sanford, Fla. town house complex, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic. While Zimmerman didn't invoke a part of the law as part of his defense, "stand your ground" language was included in the jury instructions at his trial last year. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges.

The plea deal by Alexander came soon after the judge in the case decided to allow evidence that Gray had abused women in the past.

Jackie Barnard, the spokeswoman for State Attorney Angela Corey, said no one ruling prompted a decision in this case.

"This case was handled like any other case in this office," said Barnard.

Alexander also will have to wear an electronic device to track her movements for two years, though she will be able to lead a fairly normal life, including taking her kids to school and shopping.

Alexander will be released Jan. 27. The state waived the minimum mandatory 20-year prison sentence under the deal.

The judge will still have the prerogative to sentence her to more time on the third charge, up to five years, which was aggravated assault on a child. Or he could also sentence her to time served.

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