A Florida judge has denied Marissa Alexander a new self-defense hearing, finding that the recent addition of a "warning shot" provision to the state's so-called Stand Your Ground law could not be applied retroactively. The law allows a person to fire without retreat if they have a "reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself." Alexander, a survivor of domestic violence who says she fired a warning shot at a wall to fend off her abusive husband Rico Gray after he threatened to kill her, was denied immunity in her first hearing. She was later convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
As Irin Carmon at MSNBC points out, Alexander's lawyers argued that evidence not previously introduced -- one of Gray’s children recanted his testimony, expert testimony on 'battered women’s syndrome" and Gray's history of domestic violence and lying to law enforcement -- warranted a second hearing. But Circuit Judge James Daniel wrote that the evidence did not merit a new hearing because “the basic outlines of her claim and [Gray’s] claim have not changed at all.”
The case will now go to trial, and it will be left to a jury to decide if Alexander had a "reasonable fear of imminent peril" when Gray broke through the door of the bathroom where she was hiding during a domestic violence incident, grabbed her by the neck, choked her and shoved her to the floor. Alexander said that Gray had threatened to kill her when she tried to escape through the garage, but found herself trapped when the garage door wouldn't open. She returned to the house having retrieved a gun and fired at a wall near where Gray stood. No one was harmed.
Meanwhile in Michigan, jury selection began in the trial of Theodore Wafer, the man who shot and killed 19-year-old Renisha McBride when she knocked on his front door after crashing her car a few blocks from Wafer's home. He faces charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Wafer's defense has argued that he was scared by McBride's loud knocking and shot the unarmed black teenager in self-defense. Prosecutors have pointed out that Wafer, a white man living in a predominantly white suburb outside Detroit, opened his front door and shot McBride at close range through a locked screen door.
“We do not believe he acted in lawful self-defense,” Prosecutor Kym Worthy said of Wafer, as reported by the Detroit Free Press. “She was 5-foot-4 inches tall, 19 years of age, had no weapon, had nothing in the whole world that could cause him to reasonably believe that he was in fear of grave bodily harm or death and no evidence of breaking or entering," McBride’s family’s lawyer Gerald Thurswell said of the case.
Wafer shot and killed an unarmed teenager through a locked door and has claimed self-defense, while Alexander -- a survivor of domestic abuse who harmed no one with her warning shot -- has so far been unsuccessful in making the same claim. As Natasha Lennard at Vice News notes, looking at these cases together reveals the logic of a system that considers it plausible that "unarmed black teens are imminent, mortal threats," but that "when a shot is aimed at the ceiling near an abusive husband, it is plausible that the punishment should be a lifetime behind bars."
If Wafer is convicted of second-degree murder, he could face life in prison.
Prosecutors with the office of Florida State Attorney Angela Corey opposed a second Stand Your Ground hearing for Alexander, and said through a spokesperson that, "The state stands ready to take this case to trial and seek justice for our two child victims and their father." Corey is now seeking a 60-year sentence for aggravated assault, which is triple Alexander's original sentence.