JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As her final pretrial hearing began Monday afternoon Marisa Alexander pleaded guilty in exchange for a three-year sentence. However, because of time already served before her first conviction was overturned while awaiting a retrial, Alexander will only serve an additional 65 days in jail plus two years of house arrest.
Alexander told Circuit Judge James Daniel she was prepared to start serving her incarceration immediately.
Alexander, 34, fired one shot in the direction of her then-estranged husband, Rico Gray Sr., and his two children in 2010.
Her first conviction on three charges of aggravated assault -- which was overturned on appeal last year due to faulty jury instructions on self-defense statutes -- ended with a conviction and a sentence of 20 years in prison.
Under the terms of Monday's plea agreement on two of the three counts against her, Alexander was credited for 1,030 days already served from her time behind bars after her first conviction and while awaiting the retrial. After spending 65 more days in the county jail she will be released to two years of house arrest. She must wear an electronic ankle bracket but will be allowed to go to work, job interviews, church, family medical/dental appointments and visit her children's school. All other requests must be approved by the judge.
Judge Daniel withheld a ruling on the third count for which she could serve up to five years pending her successful completion of the terms of the plea agreement.
"Ultimately that was her choice: Choose between 65 days in jail or 60 years mandatory minimum in the Florida State Prison, and quite frankly, that's a no-brainer," defense attorney Bruce Zimet said. "She was at peace with her decision; at peace going through this process and getting this whole case behind her."
Alexander's attorneys said the agreement spares her family the rigors of a highly-publicized retrial and will allow her to return to her responsibilities of raising her children and rejoining the workforce.
Alexander's defense team issued a statement saying, "Marissa is particularly grateful to her family, friends and supporters from around the country who have stood by her over the last 4½ years."
Prosecutors said discussions on this agreement had been going on for some time, and the agreement is different than the plea deal she was offered prior to her first conviction two years ago.
"I'm not going to name names or point fingers, but I think all the way there's been a lot of irresponsibility in how this case has been represented by various people," said Assistant State Attorney Rich Mantei.
Some family and friends of Alexander said they're not happy about the plea deal, but take some comfort that she'll be released in January.
"She made a decision and made the decision she could make," said Alexander's mother, Helena Jenkins. "I don't have any feelings for it right now. I'm just waiting for the 65 days to be up."
Other supporters of Alexander simply don't think it's fair that she was deemed guilty at all.
"Crazy," said another relative who didn't give her name. "Because she stood her ground."
"I was saddened by the ruling," supporter Evelyn Levy said. "I think that domestic violence is a very crucial issue in the United States, and there should have been more groups out here to still support her.
"I don't think that she should have had to plead guilty to anything, but sometimes you have to prevail with necessary evils."
Alexander case became national cause
After Alexander's first conviction and sentencing two years ago and in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, activists seized on the case as an example of inequality in how self-defense arguments were applied and questioning Florida's mandatory sentencing guidelines.
The Rev. Jessie Jackson came to Jacksonville to met with Alexander in jail. The groups Free Marissa Now and Atlanta-based Project South held "Stand Our Ground" held several rallies in Jacksonville raise awareness of Alexander's case and to celebrate exercising civil and human dignity rights.
Partly motivated by the Alexander case, the Florida Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed a so-called warning-shot bill. The new law would allow someone to threaten to use force without falling under the state's "10-20-Life" law that minimum sentences if a gun is shown, a shot is fired and if someone is shot.
Alexander's defense attorney said he felt it was a fair deal for his client.
"I think everyone agreed that a 20-year sentence for this woman was excessive," Zimet said. "This case was never about a cause for Marissa; it wasn't about a cause for us. It might be for other people and there might be social issues and political issues that people want to address. We think that the outcome speaks for itself."
Free Marissa Now issues a statement late Monday saying the group would continue organizing for Alexander's freedom and raising awareness about the issues surrounding her case.
"It is critical that we keep the momentum of our support and love going until Marissa is restored to her family and community," said lead organizer Sumayya Coleman. "As difficult as it is to see Marissa unjustly sent back to jail today, her supporters around the world stand by her. We are standing our ground that women have the right to defend themselves from violence and that black women's lives matter."
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