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Florida releases woman jailed for 20 years for firing 'warning shot'

(Reuters) - A Florida woman sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a "warning shot" during an argument with her abusive husband has been released on bond while she awaits retrial under a controversial part of the state's self-defense law.

The case of Marissa Alexander, who was convicted of aggravated-assault with a deadly weapon, touched off a furor when her supporters compared it to the self-defense case of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted earlier this year of murdering an unarmed black teenager.

Although no one was injured in Alexander's case, the court gave her a 20-year prison sentence under the state's mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines because she had fired a gun during the assault.

A state appeals court ruled in September that Alexander, who is black, deserved a new trial because the judge failed to properly instruct the Jacksonville, Florida jury about her self-defense argument. She was convicted in May 2012.

"This news is vindication for Marissa and all the women who have become criminalized for exercising their basic right to defend themselves and their children," Angie Nixon of Florida New Majority, a social justice organization, said of Alexander's release.

The case drew criticism from civil rights groups concerned about self-defense laws and mandatory minimum sentencing rules, but it received little attention outside north Florida until the Zimmerman case.

Zimmerman was arrested for killing Trayvon Martin in 2012 and was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in July 2013.

Under the so-called "Stand Your Ground" clause which was added to Florida's self-defense law in 2005, people who use deadly force to defend themselves from serious injury - rather than retreating to avoid confrontation - can be immune from prosecution.

Zimmerman never sought immunity under "Stand Your Ground," instead relying on a standard self-defense law.

Alexander's "Stand Your Ground" claim was rejected because she left the house during the confrontation to retrieve a gun from her car, returning to fire a shot near her husband Rico Gray's head.

A slightly built woman who stands 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 meter), Alexander said her 245-pound (111 kg) husband was about to attack her when she fired into a kitchen wall during the August 2010 incident. He had previously been convicted of domestic violence for attacking her.

Prosecutors said the shot endangered Gray. At the time, Alexander had an active restraining order against her husband and she carried a concealed weapons permit.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Paul Simao)

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