Marissa Alexander Update: Rev. Jesse Jackson visits Fla. woman serving 20 years in prison for firing "warning shot"

Marissa Alexander
Marissa Alexander

(CBS) - A Jacksonville mother sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a "warning shot" - and whose case has sparked outrage in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal - was visited in jail last week by civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, according to reports.

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Marissa Alexander fired a gunshot into a wall after an August 2010 physical altercation with her husband, Rico Gray. Alexander, who had a court injunction against Gray and had given birth nine days earlier, claims she fired the shot in an attempt to ward off an attack. 

She was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and sentenced to 20 years behind bars after rejecting a plea deal.

In August of 2011, a judge rejected a motion by Alexander's attorney to grant her immunity under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, one focal point of the Zimmerman case. The statute allows citizens to meet a perceived threat to their life with deadly force, without the duty to retreat first before acting in self-defense.

Jurors weighed the Stand Your Ground statue before they acquitted Zimmerman July 13 on second-degree murder charges. The neighborhood watch captain claims he was attacked by Florida teen Trayvon Martin before he shot him during an altercation in a gated Sanford, Fla. community last year.

While Zimmerman is now a free man, Alexander, who didn't harm anyone when she shot the gun, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The case fell under Florida's "10-20-life" law, which mandates enhanced sentences for crimes involving firearms.

Rev. Jackson reportedly spent about an hour with the woman last week, praying and talking to her about her case, which is under appeal. Jackson highlighted a "discrepancy" in the treatment of Alexander and Zimmerman in an interview with the Daily Beast, calling Alexander's prosecution a "travesty."

Jackson reportedly said he couldn't understand why "the guy who murdered Trayvon, killed him, is walking free with the gun [he used to shoot Martin] back in the holster and a woman who shot no one is facing 20 years in jail."

The contrast in the cases exposes injustices in the criminal justice system, Jackson told the Florida Times-Union. "We see radical racial polarization in the judicial system," Jackson told the paper. "That's a cause of great concern."

Alexander's legal team maintains that her case and the Zimmerman case are separate, though the media has drawn connections between the two in the wake of the verdict. Both involve Stand Your Ground, and Alexander's case was prosecuted by the office of Angela Corey, who was also special prosecutor on the Zimmerman case.

Alexander's lawyer, Bruce Zimet, told CBS News' Crimesider hat while the Zimmerman verdict won't have an impact on her appeal, Alexander kept a close eye on the trial.

"Marissa and her family have of course watched the Zimmerman trial with interest. While it would be inappropriate to comment on the Zimmerman case, Marissa and her family wish to once again express their thoughts and prayers on behalf of Trayvon Martin's family," Alexander's legal team said in a press release. "The tragedy of a death of a 17-year-old child should never be forgotten."

Alexander is confident that her conviction will be overturned, according to Zimet.

"While the judicial system is not perfect, Marissa recognizes that the system si designed to correct mistakes when they are made," the press release read. "Marissa and her family remain confident her conviction and sentence will be reversed and that Marissa will be able to return to her family."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for's Crimesider.