Angela Corey, the controversial Florida prosecutor who was known for her office’s case against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and for the conviction Marissa Alexander of attempted assault against an abusive husband, was booted out of office in the state’s Republican primary on Tuesday.
Corey, 61, lost the race to challenger Melissa Nelson, a 44-year-old corporate lawyer and herself a former prosecutor who was able to capitalize on criticisms of the incumbent among both liberals and conservatives, who considered her a polarizing figure.
Although local controversy had followed her through much of her tenure as Florida State Attorney, which she was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, Corey gained national attention when Gov. Rick Scott appointed her as special prosecutor to investigate the case in the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old from Miami who was killed by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who suspected that the teen was a burglar in the Sanford, Fla., gated community where Martin’s father lived.
Possibly the first homicide of a Black youth brought to broad attention through social media, the case took on international focus and ultimately centered on Zimmerman’s trial, in which he was charged by Corey’s office with second degree murder. But after a three-month trial, prosecutors failed to convince a jury there was enough evidence to convict Zimmerman and he was acquitted of all charges.
That same year, Corey had successfully prosecuted a case against Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old Black woman charged with aggravated assault. Alexander, who was at the home of her estranged husband Rico Gray in Jacksonville, and had said that he had been physically abusive in the past and was threatening to kill her at the time, fired a warning shot at him in a 2010 altercation between them, narrowly missing his head.
The case was said to implicate Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, in which a person who has a reasonable belief that their life is in danger, and is in a place they have a right to be has the authority to defend themselves by whatever means necessary. A jury took 12 minutes to convict Alexander and she was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, she was released in 2015 under a plea deal giving her a three-years sentence, freeing her for time served.
A lesser known case was that of 12-year-old Christian Fernandez, in which the boy was charged and prosecuted as an adult for the death of his two-year-old brother. Corey felt that the juvenile system could not handle the case and it was transferred to an adult court. Corey fell under scrutiny for that decision, particularly from advocates of juvenile offenders. In 2013 Fernandez pleaded guilty to manslaughter as a juvenile and sentenced to jail until the age of 19 in 2018. Ironically, Nelson was one of the lawyers on Fernandez’ defense team.
The three cases, plus other political battles and a $1 million war chest allowed Nelson to combine coalitions of liberal barristers, conservative Republicans and gun rights activists who were frustrated with Corey over her case against Alexander and Zimmerman, to turn away from Corey, who had previously enjoyed wide support.
“I believed that we deserve more in our justice system and that’s why I ran,” Nelson said Tuesday night after her win. “Tonight, this victory gives voice to what our community expects from our justice system.”
Nelson must still face write-in candidate Kenny Leigh in November for the office. The winner of the race takes office in January.
This story originally appeared on JETMag.com.