Highlighted Cases

Throughout the history of the country and the world, survivors of interpersonal violence are repeatedly incarcerated and punished for defending themselves against assault or abuse.

While some of these cases have been resolved, many are still active and ongoing. Their legal and support teams need your help. On this page, we'll list the cases we highlight on our instagram page and give you more information about them. We'll also offer some ways you can directly get involved with these cases to take action in favor of incarcerated survivors.

Highlighted Cases and Action Items

1. Celia | Read celia's story |
Book: Celia, a slave by Melton McLaurin

In 1855, a 19-year-old enslaved woman named Celia was convicted of murdering her slave owner, Robert Newsom, by a jury of 12 white men. Celia had been raped repeatedly by Newsom before she bore two of his children. Later, Celia was being courted by another enslaved man named George. When she became pregnant a third time, George told Newsom the abuse had to stop, but it didn't. On June 23, 1855, after years of begging him to stop, Newsom attempted to rape again Celia before she fought him off by hitting him twice with a stick, killing him. An appeal of her conviction was denied and she was killed by the state later that year.

A librarian at the Missouri Historical Society called Celia's trial "a sham," saying that "Most everyone on the jury was either pro-slavery or they owned slaves themselves. The thought of a slave — and let alone a female slave — getting away with something like this was not anything they would permit. The defense tried very hard to play on sympathy and cast Robert Newsom as a predator. … But the racial politics of the day won out."

2. Marissa Alexander | No perfect victims interview |
One year later

Marissa Alexander served three years in jail after firing a warning shot toward her husband, who had abused her in the past and was threatening to kill her. The shot Alexander fired did not hit or injure anyone. Marissa was originally prosecuted for aggravated assault in 2012 and given a minimum sentence of 20 years, but was released in 2015 on a plea deal. This case took place in Florida, where the state’s stand-your-ground law justifies self-defense.

(Photo: Bruce Lipsky/Florida Times-Union)

 

3. Siwatu-Salama Ra | Read her story |
Kites for liberation | Letter writing

Siwatu-Salama Ra is a young environmental activist and mother in Detroit who spent 9 months in prison for defending herself and her family with an unloaded registered firearm. Siwatu was trying to defend herself and others against a woman who was  trying to attack them with her car. Ra was pregnant at the time of her conviction and gave birth to her baby while incarcerated and shackled to a bed. She later won an appeal, but the prosecution attempted to retry the case, after which Ra accepted a plea deal of a 90-day misdemeaner conviction. She was able to go home to her family immediately as she had already spent 9 months in jail. Siwatu's situation again falls in line with Michigan’s “stand your ground,” law, but Ra’s original sentence was still two years in prison.

(Photo: Shadia Fayne Wood/Survival Media)

4. CeCe McDonald | Free CeCe documentary | Article: CeCe reflects on life after prison | ACLU: CeCe is free, but more work remains

CeCe McDonald, a Black trans woman, was jailed in a men’s prison for 19 months after defending herself against men who assaulted and harassed her and her friends one night in 2011. One of the men who was harassing them -- who had sliced CeCe’s face with a beer bottle -- was killed. Originally facing up to 40 years with charges of second-degree murder, CeCe took a plea deal and was sentenced to 41 months in prison. Although she is now free, CeCe urges supporters to continue to fight for change for transgender and LGBTQ people of color, who face high murder rates and criminal charges for self-defense.

5. Ky Peterson | Justice for Ky petition | Letter writing template | More information

Ky Peterson is a Black trans man from Georgia who is currently serving 20 years in prison for murder in self-defense of a man who had sexually assaulted him. When walking home one day, Ky was attacked and dragged into a trailer home by a man who then raped him. The same man had been harassing Ky earlier that day. Ky fought back in self-defense, leading to the attacker’s shooting and death. Afraid that the police wouldn’t believe him, Ky attempted to cover up the incident, but the body was later found by police, who believed Ky murdered the man after an attempted robbery. A rape kit later confirmed that Ky had been brutally raped, but a rape kit nurse had said that Ky “didn’t act like a woman who had been raped.”

Ky’s later took a plea deal that reduced his charge to an involuntary manslaughter charge of 20 years, a sentence 10 years longer than the sentence mandated by Georgia law. His public defender said Ky’s being black and queer were “strikes” against his case. Click the above links to take direct action toward freeing Ky, like signing the petition and writing letters.

(Illustration: Micah Bazant)

6. Alisha Walker | Fader article | Sign the petition | More ways to support

Alisha Walker is a sex worker who was imprisoned for defending herself against an aggressive client when she was 19 years old. Despite the fact the no physical evidence was recovered from the scene, Alisha was arrested for second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In 2014, Alisha was at the client’s house with another sex worker when the client, Alan Filan, a local teacher, demanded that the sex be unprotected. Walker and the other worker refused and Filan became violent with the two women, punching Alisha in the face and grabbing a knife. Alisha managed to get the knife away from Filan and stabbed him before fleeing the scene. He was later found dead.

Alisha’s legal team has been diligently working to appeal her sentences, but they need your help. Click the links above to sign the petition to demand her release and find more information about letter writing campaigns both to Alisha and to state officials.

(Photo: Support Ho(s)e / Justice for Alisha Walker Facebook page)

7. Tewkunzi Green | Website | Write a letter to Tewkunzi

Tewkunzi Green is a Black mother from Illinois who stabbed her abusive boyfriend while defending herself and her child from his attack. He later died from his injuries.

Tewkunzi was 34 years old when she was attacked by the father of her child in 2007. He backed her up against the kitchen wall and choked her while she was holding her infant son. Tewkunzi feared that she would pass out and drop her son, so she grabbed a knife and stabbed her boyfriend in self-defense. A jury found her guilty of first degree murder and she was sentenced to 34 years in prison in 2009. Tewkunzi will be 61 years old when she is able to return home.

(Illustration: Paul Callahan)

8. Nan-Hui Jo | Stand with Nan-Hui | Al Jazeera article | Donate to Nan-Hui

Nan Hui-Jo is a Korean immigrant who fled from her home in California to South Korea with her child in 2014 to escape her abusive partner after her visa had expired. Jo was later found guilty of abducting her own child and served 175 days in jail, after which she was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Nan-hui was released from immigration detention in 2015, but she continues to fight to see her child, of whom she does not currently have custody over –- the abusive father does.

Since her release from jail and immigration detention, Nan Hui has been trying to rebuild her life. As an undocumented survivor, she has not been able to get government assistance like a stimulus check, food stamps, unemployment benefits or health insurance. Even before the pandemic, she was struggling with wage theft and employment discrimination and harassment. Nan-Hui needs your support to meet fundamental needs like housing and living expenses, as well as to pay for her work permit. Click the link above to contribute.

(Illustration: Courtesy #StandWithNanHui)

9. Aylaliya Birru | The Appeal article | Sign the petition | #FreeLiyah website

Aylaliya Birru, a Black immigrant from Ethiopia, has served over four of her six year sentence in California prison for assaulting her husband, Silas D'Alioso, in self-defense, who verbally, physically and sexually abused her. Liyah said she was living in "constant fear" of her husband. One day, during a domestic dispute that had become physically violent, Liyah grabbed D'Alioso's gun, which she thought was unloaded, and pointed it at him, pulling the trigger. She said she thought he needed to hear the click of an unloaded gun for him to take her seriously. 

Liyah now faces the added possibility and punishment of deportation, and because she is Black, she is more likely to be deported than immigrants from other countries, according to a report by NYU and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.. A pardon from California Governor Gavin Newsom could keep her in the US, but his office has yet to address the issue. You can demand to #FreeLiyah by signing the petition linked above. 

(Photo illustration: Elizabeth Brown)

10. Shantonio Hunter | Freedom Fund | Free Shantonio Blog | More information

Shantonio Hunter is a Black mother and domestic abuse survivor in Tennessee who has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for her husband’s murder and abuse of their 3-year-old son. She spent four years in jail awaiting trial. Hunter was charged with felony murder, aggravated child abuse, and child neglect although she herself was a survivor of her husband’s abuse and played no part in the abuse and death of her son. This falls under "failure to protect" laws, meaning that Shantonio could be tried for murder for failing to protect her child, although she too was the victim of abuse and felt she could not safely leave the abusive relationship. The law itself blames victims and fails to protect survivors. 

Community advocates are calling on the Nashville district attorney to dismiss all charges against Shantonio so she can begin to heal and rebuild her life. You can click the links above to support their efforts by donating to Shantonio’s freedom fund, sending her a letter of support, and sending letters to the district attorney.

(Photo: Courtesy freeshantonio.wordpress.com)

11. Nicole Addimando | New Yorker article | Website | Legal Defense Fund | Donate to support Nikki's other financial needs

Nicole Addimando is a young mother who was sentenced to 19 years to life for murdering her abusive husband in Poughkeepsie, New York in 2017.

Addimando endured years of extreme physical and sexual abuse from her husband before retaliating against him, saying she had no other choice. A judge convicted Addimando of second-degree murder and sentenced her in February 2020, saying she “didn’t have to kill him,” but after examining her repeated injuries, a family services worked had deemed that Addimando was at risk of death at the hands of her husband. She had been too afraid of her husband –- and worried she would lose custody of her children –- to report the violence to the police. To find out more about Nikki’s story and how you can help her legal defense team, click the links above. 

(Photo: courtesy westandwithnikki.com)

12. Brandy Scott | Donate to Brandy's Legal Defense Survival Fund

Brandy Scott is a Black trans woman and a survivor od domestic violence who
was criminalized for defending herself against abuse. She is currently serving a 22 year sentence. Although brandy has already served her base term, she is still incarcerated due to a gun enhancement. Brandy petitioned for commutation of her sentence in 2018 and has since updated it under Gov. Newsom. If Newsom approves her commutation, Brandy could be rent home to her community.

In addition to this, Brandy transferred from Central California Women's Facility to California Institution for Women due to consistent and targeted transphobic violence by prison guards. Organizers and supporters of Brandy are concerned for her ongoing safety for the duration of her sentence.

You can support Brandy by donating to her legal defense survival fund above. The funds will contribute to costs of reentry into the community and any needs she currently has amid the coronavirus pandemic. Brandy hopes to hire an attorney with the collected funds to help with her pathway to freedom.