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Monday, October 24, 2016

The Marissa Alexander Stand Your Ground Assault Case

     Marissa Alexander, when she married Rico Gray in June 2010, was six months pregnant with their child. She had two children from a previous marriage and Gray had five with five other women. One of his sons, and two of Marissa's children, lived with them in their rented Jacksonville, Florida home. She was 30 and he was 35.

     Rico Gray had physically abused his former partners and was beating up Marissa. In July 2010, he had thrown his pregnant wife across the room, then given her a black eye with a head butt. Marissa and her children moved out of the house and into her mother's place. She also filed for an order of protection against her husband.

     At the domestic violence injunction hearing, Rico Gray reportedly said this to the judge: "I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking...or what I might do...hit them, push them." The judge granted the order of protection.

     Marissa had the baby on July 23, 2010, and on August 1, returned to the rented house to gather up more of her clothes. While there, she showed Gray a cellphone photograph of their baby. After she entered the bathroom, Gray looked through her cellphone and came across text messages she had sent to her former husband that suggested she planned to leave him permanently and get back with her ex-spouse. Enraged, Gray stormed into the bathroom and allegedly said, "If I can't have you, no one can." He put his hands on her throat, threw her against the door, and threatened to kill her.

     Breaking free, Marissa ran into the attached garage and from her car grabbed her handgun. (It was licensed.) She returned to the house (She claims she couldn't exit the dwelling through the garage because the automatic door opener didn't work.) and encountered Gray standing in the kitchen next to his two sons. Fearing for her life, she (according to her account) fired a warning shot into the air. (Ballistics analysis, however, suggested that the bullet hit a wall and ricocheted up into the ceiling.)

     Rico Gray called 911. In reporting the shooting to the dispatcher he sounded more angry than frightened. A short time later, the house was surrounded by a SWAT team. Marissa was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault. (Three counts because she had allegedly endangered three people.) Under Florida's so-called 10-20-life law, any person convicted of aggravated assault involving the discharge of a firearm is subject to a mandatory 20 year sentence.

     A few days after her arrest, Marissa was released on bail under orders from the judge to stay clear of her husband. But four months later, Marissa, in violation of the judge's order, went back to the house and punched Gray in the face. (She would later plead no contest to domestic battery.)

     With the approach of Marissa's aggravated assault by handgun trial, prosecutor Angela Corey, explained to the defendant that if convicted she would be sentenced to 20 years. The prosecutor offered her a deal: if she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, the judge would sentence her to three years in prison. Marissa rejected the plea bargain offer.

     In defending Marissa Alexander, her attorney planned to rely on Florida's "stand your ground" law that was in the news as a result of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin  murder case. (Angela Corey, the state's attorney in Marissa's case was the leading special prosecutor in the February 2012 Sanford, Florida shooting.) Under the "stand your ground" self-defense doctrine, a person who is threatened with death or serious bodily injury in a place where he has a right to be, has no duty under the law to retreat and can meet force with force.

     In a pre-trial hearing on the stand your ground issue, Judge James Daniel  ruled that the law didn't apply to Marissa Alexander because she had no reason to fear for her life in that confrontation with her husband. The defendant could therefore not rely on self-defense and the stand your ground doctrine.

     On March 16, 2012, a jury found Alexander guilty of the three aggravated assault counts. The judge, bound by Florida's 10-20-life law, sentenced her to 20 years in prison.

     Critics of mandatory sentencing laws, along with anti-domestic violence advocates, expressed outrage over the outcome of the Marissa Alexander case. Other than winning an appeal, Marissa Alexander's only other legal remedy involved a grant of clemency by Florida Governor Rick Scott. For that to happen, a member of the state clemency board would have to initiate the action. Marissa could only make application herself after she has served half of her sentence.

     In the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin murder trial, on July 13, 2013, the jury found defendant Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder. He was also acquitted of the lesser homicide offense of manslaughter. In this case, the jury of six women found that because Zimmerman reasonably feared for his life during a fight with Trayvon Martin, the neighborhood watch leader was legally justified in standing his ground and eventually using deadly force against the 17-year-old. The jury had accepted the defense theory that at the time of his death the 17-year-old was on top of the defendant, banging his head against the sidewalk. Following the February 2012 shooting, Zimmerman had told police officers that he had been afraid the attacker would get control of his handgun.

     In 2013, an appeals court overturned Marissa Alexander's conviction on procedural grounds. The prosecutor immediately announced a second trial that was later scheduled for December 1, 2014. Marissa Alexander remained in custody pending the outcome of the second trial.

     On November 24, 2014, after spending 1,030 days behind bars, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal that consisted of two years probation during which time she would wear an electronic ankle bracelet. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

P.J. Williams and the Florida State University Football Hit-And-Run Cover-Up

     At two-forty in the morning of October 5, 2014, in Tallahassee, Florida, Florida State University cornerback P.J. Williams and two passengers in his Buick Century drove into the path of an oncoming Honda CR-V driven by 18-year-old Ian Keith. Keith was returning home from his job at a nearby Olive Garden. Williams and his friends, one of whom was a teammate, had been celebrating the previous afternoon's football victory.

     Both vehicles in the accident were totaled. Keith's Honda sat in the street leaking fluid with its front end crumpled amid auto part debris. Bruised and cut from his deployed airbag, the teen climbed out of his car and waited for the police.

     P.J. Williams, the 21-year-old football star who had been named the most valuable defense player in last season's national championship game, fled the scene on foot with his friends. The accident had clearly been his fault, and he had been driving on a suspended license. He had also been drinking.

     Officiers with the Tallahassee Police Department responded to the scene. They asked Ian Keith where the occupant or occupants of the other vehicle had gone. Keith said the three men in the Buick had run off. A check of the Buick's license plate revealed it was registered to P.J. William's grandmother in Ocala, Florida.

     Twenty minutes after fleeing the accident scene, Williams returned with several friends and teammates. He apologized to the officers for leaving the scene of an accident, explaining that he "had a lot on the line." As the local football star rambled on incoherently, a female friend told him to stop talking. "You sound like you've been drinking," she said.

     The Tallahassee officers did not give Williams a field sobriety test or even ask him if he had been drinking or using drugs. Instead, they called two ranking officers with FSU security (no doubt ex-cops) and the director of the athletic department. Because the accident was off-campus, the security officers had no jurisdiction in the case and no business being there.

     At three-thirty that morning, the director of football player development came to the scene and drove Williams home. Ian Keith rode home in a tow truck.

     The FSU campus police officials did not write up a report on the accident. The Tallahassee officers, without conducting an investigation, submitted a report stating there was no evidence of alcohol or drug use associated with the accident. The crash involving the football star went unreported in the local media.

     Rather than being charged with hit-and-run, the police issued Williams a ticket for making an improper left turn and a ticket for driving on a suspended license. His fines totaled $392. Had Williams not been a Florida football star, the officers would have placed him in handcuffs and hauled him off to jail where he would have been tested for alcohol and drugs. He would have been charged with hit-and-run, driving under the influence, and driving without a license. He would have been in big trouble.

     Two days after the accident, Williams paid $296 in overdue fines related to an earlier speeding ticket. I wonder who gave him the money for that. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

The John Mallett Stabbing Spree

 
     As a teenager growing up in New York City, John Mallett spent time in the juvenile wing of the jail on Rikers Island. He had stabbed a boy in a fight over a girl. As a young adult, Mallett, a paranoid schizophrenic, continued to have problems with the law. He served three years in prison for robbery. Mallett's family tried to get him help through the courts and public health, but were ignored. They learned that the criminal justice system is of no help to a family of a violent, mentally ill person until that person commits a heinous crime. Then, of course, it is too late.

     In 2002, Mallett moved to Nashville, Tennessee where his mental illness continued to lead him into trouble. In March of that year, he was convicted of resisting arrest, and in July 2010, for criminal trespass. In February 2011, just before moving to Columbus, Ohio, the authorities in Nashville charged Mallett with the unlawful possession of a weapon. (That charge was later dismissed.)

     In Columbus, Mallett moved in with his aunt. He became such a problem for her she asked him to move out. This may have placed the mentally ill man under considerable stress. On March 14, 2012, while in downtown Columbus a few blocks from the state capitol, Mallett entered the 25-story Continental Centre building carrying three knives, one of which came from his aunt's kitchen. The office building housed, on the first floor, a for-profit trade school (criminal justice, security, investigation, and court reporting) called Miami-Jacobs Career College. The school, owned by the Delta Career Education Corporation headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, consisted of 37 campuses and 16,000 students around the country.

     In the trade school's admissions office, Mallett, carrying a knife in each hand, repeatedly stabbed two employees and a criminal justice student. Back outside, he knifed an attorney who worked for the state attorney general's office, also housed in the building. Several bystanders tried but failed to disarm Mallett. One of the witnesses dialed 911.

      Within minutes of the 911 call, Columbus patrol officer Deborah Ayers pulled up to the building. The 15-year veteran of the force confronted Mallett near the building's entrance. "Sir," she yelled, "you need to put the knife down. Sir, please put the knife down!" Instead of complying with the officer's command, Mallet lunged toward her with his knife. Ayers fired 11 shots at Mallet, hitting him several times. Before he collapsed to the pavement, a second officer shocked him with a stun gun.

     The 37-year-old Mallett and his four victims were rushed to a local hospital. They were expected to survive their wounds. The fact Mallett lunged at the officer with the knife suggested a suicide-by-cop attempt.

     On Thursday, March 15,2012, he day after the rampage, the local prosecutor charged John Mallett with four counts of felonious assault.

     A battery of psychiatrists appointed by the court to examine Mallett concluded that he suffered from severe paranoid schizophrenia. On June 10, 2013, Franklin County Judge Kimberly Cocroft found Mallett not guilty by reason of insanity.

     A few weeks after the verdict, corrections officials assigned the schizophrenic to a Columbus area forensic psychiatric facility where he was to remain incarcerated until his doctors declared he was sane enough to rejoin society. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Miami Beach Check-Out Line Murder Case

     On Monday December 1, 2014, at the M & L Market in Miami Beach, Florida, 58-year-old Mohammed Hussein found himself standing in the express check-out line behind a man with a basket overloaded with groceries. Mr. Hussein, the father of two, complained to this shopper that he was in the wrong line, that he had far too many items to check out. The express line violator ignored Mr. Hussein and continued to unload his grocery basket.

     When Mr. Hussein again objected to what the shopper in front of him was doing, the man told him to mind his own business. This led to an exchange of angry words. In the midst of the argument, the offending shopper, without warning, delivered a vicious backhand that knocked Mr. Hussein off his feet.

     The unconscious victim fell backward and his head bounced off the grocery store floor. Blood immediately began pooling around his skull. As the man who struck him fled the store an employee called 911.

     Paramedics rushed Mr. Hussein to the Ryder Medical Center where he slipped into a coma with a fractured skull and severe bleeding on the brain. Back at the M & L Market, detectives viewed surveillance camera footage of the assault.

     On Thursday night December 11, 2014, officers with the Miami Beach Police Department arrested 53-year-old Roger Todd Perry at his home in Palm Beach County. A Miami-Dade County prosecutor charged Perry with felony battery of Mr. Hussein. Shown the surveillance camera footage and informed that several witnesses had picked him out of a photo line-up, Mr. Perry confessed to striking Mr. Hussein in the grocery store check out line.

     Two days after officers arrested Roger Perry, Mohammed Hussein passed away. His autopsy revealed that he had died of "complications of blunt force head injury." Perry was booked into the Miami-Dade County Jail.

     On December 15, 2014, the Miami-Dade County prosecutor upgraded Roger Perry's felony battery charge to second-degree murder. At his arraignment on the murder charge, Perry asked the judge, "Did that man pass away?"

      Mr. Perry's attorney, public defender Elliot Snyder, in arguing for a bail amount the defendant could afford, told the arraignment judge that his client was mentally unstable. According to the defense attorney, Roger Perry suffered from two disorders: bipolar and post-traumatic stress. Attorney Snyder also cited a 2002 Broward County case involving two elderly men who got into a fight at a movie theater. The victim hit his head and died. The prosecutor charged the 74-year-old suspect with manslaughter. The defendant pleaded guilty to that charge in exchange for a six month jail sentence.

      The judge ordered an evaluation of Perry's mental condition and denied him bond.

     Residents at Roger Perry's apartment complex told reporters that the murder suspect had indicated that he had been a member of the Marine Corps.

     On September 30, 2016, Roger Perry pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to seven years in prison.