I have long been dubious of the court of public opinion. Too often it bears an overreliance on emotion while conveniently disregarding facts.
A prime example are those rallying against the apparent injustice of Marissa Alexander, who is facing 60 years imprisonment in Florida for allegedly firing a warning shot against her abusive husband, Rico Gray.
Bloggers, social media, cable news outlets and activists have taken up Alexander's cause, to demonstrate the double standard of Florida's infamous "stand your ground" law.
Critics of the George Zimmerman verdict, who was acquitted in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, argue that a lesser crime, of which Alexander is accused, does not warrant this type of punishment. That Alexander is an African-American woman and that the incident also occurred in Florida was all the evidence required to reach a verdict of not guilty in the court of public opinion.
Unlike Zimmerman, Alexander invoked the "stand your ground" doctrine. She was found guilty and initially received a mandatory 20-year prison sentence. The prosecution originally offered Alexander a plea of three years, but she declined.
While Alexander was serving her sentence, a judge ordered that she receive a new trial, finding the jury instructions in her original trial were erroneous.
State Attorney Angela Corey announced in the new trial that Alexander could go to prison for 60 years as they pursue her conviction on three charges of aggravated assault. The Florida Legislature sets the sentencing guidelines, and under Florida's 10-20-life mandatory minimum law for gun crimes, Alexander could receive up to 20 years for each charge.
It does not appear that Alexander's actions demand 20 years imprisonment, let alone 60, but she hardly merits comparison as the antithesis to Zimmerman. Good intentions not withstanding, to suggest Zimmerman's unjust verdict justifies ignoring the actions of Alexander is incongruent with any notions of justice.
Alexander met Gray in 2007, had a documented violent altercation with him in 2009 in which she was reportedly injured, but married him in 2010. After roughly two months of marriage, Alexander, who was pregnant, moved out. She returned to the home about 50 days after moving out and parked her car in the garage. With no one home, she let herself in and stayed the night.
The next day, Gray and his children returned, finding Alexander there. According to the police report, while she shared photos of their newborn baby on her phone, Gray saw other texts from Alexander's ex-husband that insinuated he was the father.
An argument broke out, Alexander left through the kitchen to her car. She stated the automatic garage door malfunctioned so she went back inside with her gun. (The garage door worked fine when police checked it after Alexander gave her story.)
At this point, Alexander claimed Gray threatened to kill her. As he allegedly lunged for her, she fired a shot that went through the wall and into the ceiling.
Nowhere in the police report, does it suggest that Alexander fired a warning shot; it states she "nearly missed his head."
Moreover, the police report also stated that Gray had his 12-year-old son next to him when the shot was fired. Gray took his children and fled,; Alexander was arrested on aggravated assault.
After Alexander was initially released on bail, ignoring a court order, she located Gray at his new home, attacked him in front of his children, and she was arrested again.
This does not prove Alexander's guilt -- that will be up to a jury. But her case is hardly the prototype to demonstrate the insanity of "stand your ground."
At first glance, it is understandable why so many across the nation would support Alexander. But facts do not always exist on the surface for easy consumption. Unfortunately, that is a minor consideration in the court of public opinion.
Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.