Courtesy of THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION
Posted: January 10, 2014 – 10:28am | Updated: January 11, 2014 – 1:00am
By Larry Hannan (904) 359-4770 firstname.lastname@example.org
Marissa Alexander can remain free on bond, but judge clearly upset with home-detention supervisor
A Jacksonville judge has ruled that Marissa Alexander can remain free on bond after prosecutors accused her of violating her home detention by going on multiple trips not authorized by the court. “This was not a willful violation,” said Circuit Judge James Daniel. “It was a mistake and mistakes happen.”
But Daniel made it clear that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office erred in granting Alexander too much leeway to leave home detention and expressed his frustration directly to the employee who approved the trips. The person who approved Alexander’s trips now faces an internal investigation from the Sheriff’s Office.
The office of State Attorney Angela Corey had requested that Daniel revoke Alexander’s bond for going out shopping for clothes, driving family members to the hair shop and airport, getting a new driver’s license, visiting the bank and seeing a relative of her estranged husband. A hearing on the matter occurred Friday morning.
Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei said Alexander, 33, did all of this while she was on home detention, which prohibited her from leaving her residence except for court appearances, medical emergencies and to satisfy any requirements of her pretrial services program. She had been granted $200,000 bond just before Thanksgiving after getting a new trial in her aggravated-assault case for firing a shot during an altercation with her husband, Rico Gray, while two of his children were also in the room.
Defense attorney Bruce Zimet countered that every trip she took was approved by the Sheriff’s Office, which supervises people on home detention. Correctional service counselor April Wilson, the Sheriff’s Office civilian employee assigned to the case, confirmed Friday that she approved every trip Alexander took. Wilson also said she believed Daniel’s order gave her the leeway to do that, a point the judge angrily disagreed with Friday. “If I’d wanted to give you the authority and discretion to do this, I would have done so,” Daniel said.
Wilson, who appeared near tears at the end of her testimony, said this has never happened to her before in the 18 years she’s done this job. She told Daniel she now understood the order was more restrictive than she thought. Spokeswoman Lauri-Ellen Smith said an investigation was occurring into Wilson’s conduct. “It appears that our counselor violated the court order for the home detention release of Marissa Alexander,” Smith said. “We are conducting an administrative investigation, and any necessary corrective action will be taken.”
One condition of Alexander’s release is that she have no contact with Gray or his sons. Before her first trial, Alexander had her bond revoked for failing to stay away from Gray after an argument led to her being arrested on a domestic battery charge. The couple is in divorce proceedings.
Friday, Mantei said Alexander violated the judge’s order at least nine times after she was released on bond a second time in November. “The evidence shows you can’t rely on her to follow your order,” Mantei said. He said Daniel can’t just blame the Sheriff’s Office. He said Alexander violated bond once before and should have known better. But Zimet said the court order told Alexander to check with the Sheriff’s Office before doing anything, and that’s what she did.
“I didn’t think my order was ambiguous,” Daniel said and asked if Zimet believes his client had the right to take these trips. Zimet conceded the order was clear and said if he was the Sheriff’s Office bond supervisor he would have checked with Daniel before allowing trips. Wilson granted Alexander permission to visit her sister-in-law to get money for her bond. She thought her sister-in-law was the wife of Alexander’s brother, but the husband was actually the brother of Gray. Zimet said Alexander just pulled into the driveway and got the money, not going into the house. Wilson said GPS confirmed Alexander was only there for two minutes. Daniel said there was no evidence that Alexander had sought out her estranged husband or his children during any of her trips, a point the prosecution conceded was true.
Mantei sharply questioned Wilson during the hearing but declined to criticize the law enforcement agency afterward. The Sheriff’s Office will take care of its own business, he said.
Alexander is charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Her case drew national attention after she was denied immunity under the state’s Stand Your Ground law and sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison under the 10-20-Life statutes for discharging a firearm during certain felonies. The conviction was thrown out after the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that Daniel made a mistake in shifting the burden to Alexander to prove she was acting in self-defense. During jury instructions, Daniel said she must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was battered by her husband. A new trial has been scheduled for March 31.
Alexander was originally arrested in August 2010, days after she’d given birth after Gray accused her of infidelity and questioned whether the child was his, according to police and court documents. Alexander told him to leave and locked herself in the bathroom until he broke through the door, grabbed her by the neck and shoved her to the floor.
She ran into the garage but found she couldn’t leave because the garage door wouldn’t open, according to the report. She got a gun from the glove compartment of a car in the garage, went back into the house and when Gray saw her, she said he charged saying he was going to kill her. Alexander fired the gun. Alexander said it was a warning shot. Prosecutors dispute that and say the bullet hit the wall, not the ceiling, and it could have killed Gray or his children.