Date: April 24, 2012
Contact: Monica Pratt Raffanel, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) President Julie Stewart today called on Florida lawmakers to repeal the state’s “10-20-Life” automatic prison sentence for assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill. The call comes as Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, prepares to be sentenced for a 2010 incident in which she fired a gun into the ceiling of her house to persuade her abusive husband to leave.
“A lot of attention has been paid to Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and far too little to the state’s extreme, one-size-fits-all sentencing laws,” Ms. Stewart said. “Less than three years ago, Orville Lee Wollard, a lawful gun owner, fired a warning shot in his home to chase off a young man who had been abusing his teenage daughter. After Wollard rejected a plea deal and a jury rejected Wollard’s self-defense claim, a Florida judge was forced by the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing law for assault to send Wollard to prison for 20 years. Mr. Wollard’s judge stated that he thought the sentence was excessive, but said his hands were tied.
“In the coming weeks, Marissa Alexander, who was also found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, will likely be sentenced to the same 20-year mandatory minimum prison term. While reasonable people can disagree on whether Mr. Wollard or Ms. Alexander deserve any prison time for their conduct, no one can honestly believe that these were the types of cases the legislature had in mind when it passed the 10-20-Life automatic gun sentence,” Stewart said.
According to press reports and court records, Ms. Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray, abused her on more than one occasion before the incident that led to her conviction. Mr. Gray described one incident of abuse in a deposition, saying, “And the third incident (with Alexander) we was staying together and I pushed her back and she fell in the bathtub and hit her head and I-- you know, by the time I ran downstairs and got in my car to leave, you know, that's the time I went to jail, the police picked me up down the street.”
In that same deposition, Mr. Gray admitted that he threatened his wife’s safety on the day she fired the gun into the ceiling. He also admitted that Ms. Alexander never aimed her gun at him (or his two children who were also present). According to Mr. Gray, after she told him to leave her house and he refused, she discharged the gun into the ceiling and no one was hurt. He later called the police and told them what had happened. Ms. Alexander was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault (one count related to her husband, and two more for her stepsons). Ms. Alexander strongly maintains her innocence.
Greg Newburn, director of FAMM’s Florida project, said, “Based on everything we have heard to this point, we believe that sending Marissa Alexander to prison for 20 years would be a tremendous injustice and a colossal waste of Florida taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
“This is not an issue about race – it’s about individualized justice. Ms. Alexander is black, but Orville Lee Wollard is white. Rather, this is another, powerful example of how inflexible sentencing laws prevent courts from considering highly relevant circumstances, such as whether the offender is a hardened criminal or a first-time offender and whether someone was motivated by malice or genuine fear,” said Newburn.
For more information on Marissa Alexander’s case, see news articles in the Florida Times-Union, International Business Times, and Loop 21.
For more information on Orville Lee Wollard’s case, see his profile and an op-ed by Ms. Stewart that appeared in The Washington Times. For another case involving an excessive sentence imposed under the 10-20-life mandatory gun law, see FAMM’s profile of Erik Weyant.