Reviled Florida State Attorney Angela Corey lost her reelection bid on Tuesday night, prompting widespread celebration as the woman The Nation once suggested was “the cruelest prosecutor in America” was ousted.
“Corey’s loss is an encouraging sign that the public will no longer tolerate overzealous and unprincipled criminal prosecutions, including women and children,” University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks said in a statement.
Corey, whose eight-year tenure in Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit Court saw her charge 77 children as adults in 2016 alone and sentence more people to death than any other Florida prosecutor, gained widespread notoriety for her inadequate prosecution of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, and for seeking a 60-year sentence for Marissa Alexander, a domestic violence survivor with three children, for firing a warning shot in the direction of her abusive husband. (Alexander spent three years in prison.)
“Her tactics have been rejected by her community, and we applaud the voters for rejecting them.”
Corey was also criticized for trying 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez as an adult in the killing of his younger brother.
Corey was defeated by unknown opponent and corporate lawyer Melissa Nelson, who will now face off with write-in candidate Kenny Leigh in the general election—although Jacksonville media noted that no write-in candidate has ever been elected to the state attorney position in Florida, and that Leigh has yet to make a single campaign appearance. Nelson, while in private practice, served on Fernandez’s defense team.
Other experts said the rejection of a so-called “tough on crime” prosecutor in a conservative area could signal a shift in voter priorities and political awareness.
“Over the last few decades, voters did not seem to respond when prosecutors failed to produce results,” said Wake Forest University law professor and former prosecutor Ronald Wright. “Voters didn’t turn against a prosecutor who did not follow public priorities about how to use limited tax dollars to enforce the criminal law. But [the] election results in Jacksonville hint that a new era of prosecutor accountability might be here.”
Some of those who welcomed the decision took to Twitter to celebrate.
Award-winning musician John Legend, who co-founded the #FreeAmerica criminal justice system reform campaign, also celebrated Corey’s ouster.
“Prosecutors possess much of the power to end mass incarceration and to make our criminal justice system smarter and more just,” he said in a statement. “Today the voters in Jacksonville and throughout Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit have decided that Angela Corey failed in that responsibility by aggressively seeking the death penalty and egregiously charging juveniles, particularly those of color, as adults. Her tactics have been rejected by her community, and we applaud the voters for rejecting them.”