On Tuesday, Florida voters kicked Jacksonville prosecutor Angela Corey out of office. Corey garnered just 26 percent of the vote in the Republican primary. Her rival, Melissa Nelson, defeated her by a 38-point margin. Nelson is reform-minded but also touts a National Rifle Association endorsement. She will run unopposed in November.
Corey is widely known as one of the cruelest and deadliest prosecutors in America. She is infamous for vigorously prosecuting Marissa Alexander, a black woman who fired a warning shot into a wall during an altercation with her abusive husband. Under Florida’s stand-your-ground law, this action was perfectly legal—but Corey secured a 20-year jail sentence for Alexander, arguing that she fired the shot out of anger. A judge later overturned her conviction, ordered a retrial, and released Alexander; Corey has since fought to send her back to jail, alleging untruthfully that she had violated parole. Corey also hoped to secure a 60-year sentence for Alexander at her retrial.
Two years before the Alexander incident, Corey gained notoriety for ordering prosecutors to charge 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez as an adult for the murder of his younger half-brother. (Her best evidence was drawn from a “confession” of dubious constitutionality.) Fernandez was born to a 12-year-old mother whose boyfriend molested him. Another of his mother’s boyfriends shot himself in the head in Fernandez’s presence. By prosecuting Fernandez as an adult, Corey would have been able to hold him in an adult jail during trial, and secure a mandatory life sentence before Fernandez became a teenager. Pro bono counsel eventually intervened and negotiated a plea deal that allowed Fernandez to serve just a few years in juvenile jail. The attorney who secured that deal was Melissa Nelson, who just unseated Corey. (After the Fernandez incident, Corey continued threatening to charge juveniles as adults to coerce them into accepting harsh plea deals.)
During the span of her term, Corey sent far more people to death row than any other Florida prosecutor. Most of these capital defendants were black men. She was unapologetic about her use of the death penalty; when one victim’s mother said she opposed capital punishment for her daughter’s killer, Corey declared on live radio that the mother was “more interested in publicity than actually grieving for her daughter.” Yet Corey was oddly lenient on several high-profile defendants accused of killing black men, including George Zimmerman. Corey avoided race entirely when prosecuting Zimmerman, who shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. She was widely accused of botching the prosecution by overcharging Zimmerman.
Corey also employed a medical examiner who may have suffered from dementia. Her critics allege that Corey continued to put the examiner on the stand to secure murder convictions after she became aware of his diminished mental state.
Florida voters also unseated prosecutor Jeff Ashton on Tuesday; he was defeated by a black woman whose husband previously served time in prison. Ashton was similarly known for his overzealous prosecutions of minorities, and for condoning an employee’s offensive Facebook rants. In 2014, Kenneth Lewis, one of Ashton’s assistant prosecutors wrote, “Happy Mother’s Day to all the crack hoes out there. It’s never too late to turn it around, tie your tubes, clean up your life and make difference to someone out there that deserves a better mother.” Lewis also posted a picture of Justice Sonia Sotomayor and wrote, “Reason enough why no country should ever engage in the practice of Affirmative Action again. This could be the result. Where would she be if she didn’t hit the quota lottery? Here’s a hint: ‘Would you like to supersize that sir?’ ”
When reporters asked Ashton about Lewis’ posts, he explained that “I do not police the private thoughts, views or expressions of those in my employ.” On Tuesday, Ashton lost his primary race by 14 points.
Over the past year, voters have also rejected exorbitantly retributive prosecutors in Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, and Texas. In Chicago and Cleveland, voters were especially irate that ostensibly “tough on crime” prosecutors seemed to target young black men while failing to charge, try, or convict police officers who shoot young black men. Replacing these prosecutors with reform candidates is a major goal of the Black Lives Matter movement. With the toppling of Corey, this campaign to unseat unjust prosecutors scored its biggest victory yet.