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Florida woman given 20 years for firing warning shot won't return to jail ahead of new trial

A Florida woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot during a fight with her husband will remain in home detention after a judge ruled Friday that she did not violate the terms of her release when she left her house to run errands.

Marissa Alexander, 33, who has a new trial set for March 31, was released on bond in November and ordered to stay under house arrest and wear an electronic tracking device.

But during the month of December, Alexander made trips to the local bank and grocery store, among other errands. Prosecutors alleged that these outings violated her release — and that she should be ordered to go back behind bars.

But Judge James Daniel said Friday that "this was not a willful violation" of Alexander's release, citing testimony from the Duval County Sheriff supervisor who handles the home detention that said the errands were sanctioned.

State prosecutors have said they will retry Alexander in the original case, in which Alexander was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. An appeals court later found that the jury had been given incorrect instructions on her self-defense claim, and ordered a new trial.

The plight of Alexander drew national attention because of perceived parallels to the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense and was acquitted in July of second-degree murder.

Alexander claimed that she feared for her life on Aug. 1, 2010, during a fight with her estranged husband, Rico Gray, who was under a restraining order and who she said had abused her.

She testified that she fled into a garage and got a gun but couldn’t leave the house because the garage door was stuck. She testified that she went back into the house, where Gray was with his two sons, and fired the shot.

Gray testified that Alexander was the aggressor and pointed the gun at him before she fired. Prosecutors said that Alexander aimed the gun at Gray and his two sons, and that the bullet she fired could have ricocheted and hit any of them.

The appeals court said that the trial judge was correct to block Alexander from invoking the Florida law known as Stand Your Ground, which generally removes a person’s duty to retreat when he or she is confronted with perceived deadly force. But the judge's instructions to the jury regarding elements of self-defense were deemed insufficient.