The PJ Tatler

Unpacking Kirsten Powers' Dodgy Take on the Marissa Alexander Case

Earlier this week, I called on Democrat pundit Kirsten Powers to stop lying about the Marissa Alexander case. Alexander is the Florida woman who was prosecuted by Angela Corey for firing a warning shot during an argument with her estranged husband. She now faces 20 years in prison. Powers is using the Alexander case to argue that the criminal justice system is inherently biased due to race, and that George Zimmerman is really guilty but got off due to race, because Alexander is black and Zimmerman is “white Hispanic.”

The prison sentence that Alexander faces is truly excessive, in my opinion. On this, Powers and I agree. My opinion as a layman is that she probably deserves no more than six months, with any time served counting toward that total. Alexander had the power of deadly force in her hands but chose not to kill. That should count for quite a bit. Alexander is facing such a harsh sentence, though, because of gun control advocates like Kirsten Powers and the mandatory minimum sentences they have passed in relation to crimes involving firearms. This, Powers will not admit.

In her latest column on the case, Powers doubles down, obfuscates and sweeps facts under the rug to make her case.

Angela Corey is angry. The Florida state attorney lashed out Tuesday at supporters of Marissa Alexander, who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for defending herself against her violent and abusive husband. Corey is the one who put her away.

There’s some debate as to whether Alexander was truly defending herself when she fired the shot. That was a substantial part of the case against her. Powers automatically takes Alexander’s side. She has that right, but it doesn’t make her right. According to the case file, Alexander retreated from the scene of the argument, retrieved the gun when she had the opportunity to leave, and then returned to fire the shot. That’s simply not “stand your ground.”

After launching a justified attack on Corey as overzealous — no debate about that from me, Corey is overzealous — Powers papers over the details of the case well enough to indicate that she actually does know what those details are.

Like most domestic-abuse cases, this one is complicated. But the basic facts are these: In July 2010, after Rico Gray saw texts on his wife’s phone, he confronted her in a rage and threatened her. Alexander used her gun to fire a warning shot into the ceiling to scare off her husband. Nobody was hit, injured, or killed.

The texts that Gray saw hinted strongly that their newborn was not in fact his child. Why not spell that out, Ms. Powers? When Alexander fired the shot, she had retreated and then returned when she had the opportunity to leave, or call the police herself. The couple’s children were standing alongside Gray. The shot obviously endangered them. Powers also gets the direction of the shot wrong. It barely missed Gray’s head. I doubt that she had any intent to kill. If she had, she would have shot Gray. But saying that she fired “into the ceiling” obscures the fact that the shot was fired in Gray’s and the children’s general direction.

Alexander, who had no criminal record, was arrested. Contrast this with another Florida resident, George Zimmerman (also prosecuted by Corey), who had a record including an arrest for battery of a police officer and a restraining order for domestic abuse. He also had killed an unarmed teenager. Yet he wasn’t arrested until there was a national outcry and was later acquitted. Alexander—who did not kill or injure anyone—is in jail for 20 years.

Zimmerman also had a record of advocating for a homeless black man against the Sanford police. He tutored black kids who were struggling in school. Zimmerman had been chosen by his neighborhood to head up their watch program, to fight a spate of crimes that had been occurring there. He was acquitted because the state’s case against him didn’t hold up to the charges. Sorry, Ms. Powers, but that’s simply a fact. Powers sets Zimmerman up in cartoon fashion to make him look as bad as possible, while neglecting to note that the wounds he suffered were consistent with the defense case that Trayvon Martin did have deadly weapons at hand — namely, his fight-trained fists and the concrete he slammed Zimmerman’s head into. Is Powers unaware that the prosecution’s witness, John Good, testified that he saw Martin on top of Zimmerman slamming him “ground and pound” style? Is Powers unaware that prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel says she believes that Martin threw the first punch? Is Powers unaware that Jeantel says that she told Martin that Zimmerman may have been a gay rapist, with no evidence at all, opening up the possibility that Martin attacked Zimmerman in a mistaken case of gay bashing? That also opens up the possibility that Martin profiled Zimmerman. How inconvenient.

If she’s aware of any of it, it doesn’t influence her writing about the case at all.

Next, Powers moves from obscuring facts to advocacy.

Alexander’s lawyer tried to have the case thrown out based on the state’s “stand your ground” law, but was denied. Her lawyer told me, “When a woman or minority is claiming they are defending themselves, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt.” Rita Smith, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence echoed this sentiment saying, “Most battered women who kill in self-defense end up in prison. There is a well-documented bias against women [in these cases].”

Both of these quoted witnesses have vested interests in the outcome of the Alexander case. Defense attorneys routinely toss up whatever defense they can find, which is their job. They routinely try to get charges against their clients thrown out of court, which is their job. Zimmerman’s defense team also tried to get the charges against their client tossed out. Why doesn’t Powers mention that?  As for Smith’s quote, some statistics would be nice. Here’s one: The “stand your ground” laws that Powers maligns actually benefit blacks more often than whites. And as the entire world knows, Zimmerman’s defense did not even invoke “stand your ground.” The jury did consider that law, but not because Zimmerman’s defense brought it up. Zimmerman’s defense argued ordinary self-defense. Powers has an obligation to her readers to point that fact out.

Next, Powers again obfuscates the texts on Alexander’s phone that sparked the altercation with the abusive Gray. Again, there’s no debate about Gray in this. He’s not a good guy and is far from innocent.

Gray admitted in his deposition there had been “about four or five” incidents of domestic violence with Alexander prior to the shooting incident, including when he “pushed her back and she fell in the bathtub and she hit her head.” He said that she went to the hospital and he went to jail for that.

In describing his abuse of another woman he said, “She just wouldn’t shut up.” So he hit her in the mouth. Asked about another woman he had a relationship with, Gray said, “She got hit in the mouth, same thing.”

As for the day of the shooting incident, he says when he saw the texts on Alexander’s phone he pushed his way into the bathroom to confront her. He said in the deposition: “I was mad, you know. I said, what the f—- is this, and you know, I told her that … if I can’t have you nobody going to have you … She ain’t shit.”

Those texts hinted strongly that Alexander had been lying to Gray about the paternity of their newborn. That doesn’t justify any violence against Alexander, but Powers consistently omits it as fact to keep up the image of Alexander as purely innocent and Gray, along with Corey, as pure villain. It’s all too simplistic a rendering of what really happened. There’s villainy in abundance in this case.

Powers finishes by, finally, quoting from the court documents to build up Gray as the villain. He is a villain. Alexander isn’t exactly a saint. After she fired the warning shot, Gray took the children and fled and Alexander stayed in the house for two days, never calling 911 about the incident. Police sent in the SWAT team to remove her from the house, which was probably excessive, but then again she was known to be armed and willing to pull the trigger.

By quoting the case documents, Powers finally reveals that she has read them and is choosing to omit facts to buttress her case. That’s disappointing.

I guess it beats writing a column about the fact that the IRS scandal just landed in the agency’s counsel’s office. The IRS chief counsel is one of just two political appointees at the IRS.