Judge Dismisses Murder Charge Against Tracy McCarter, Who Stabbed Her Violent Ex in Self-Defense

McCarter, a Black woman, spent six months on Rikers Island in 2020 for physically defending herself against her abusive, white ex-husband.

Judge Dismisses Murder Charge Against Tracy McCarter, Who Stabbed Her Violent Ex in Self-Defense
Image:Survived & Punished NY

A New York judge on Friday agreed to dismiss a murder charge against Tracy McCarter, a 47-year-old nurse and grandmother who stabbed her estranged, physically abusive ex-husband in self-defense. This ruling from state Supreme Court Judge Diane Kiesel comes after last month, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg moved to dismiss the case and wrote that he had “reasonable doubt” about McCarter’s guilt.

In what the New York Times characterized as “unusually personal terms,” Kiesel expressed hostility to Bragg’s decision to dismiss the case. “The court finds no compelling reason to dismiss the indictment, but for the district attorney’s unwillingness to proceed,” Kiesel wrote. But she conceded that “it is not in the interest of justice for the court to engage in a futile and unseemly standoff with the district attorney.”

For almost a year after being elected district attorney in November 2021, Bragg faced intense protest from local activists for declining to dismiss the charge against McCarter—despite having tweeted a year earlier from the campaign trail, “I #StandWithTracy. Prosecuting a domestic violence survivor who acted in self-defense is unjust,” along with an article about McCarter’s story. Around the time that Bragg tweeted this, McCarter was serving six months on Rikers Island at the height of the covid pandemic, awaiting indictment from a grand jury.

“I am innocent. And I am devastated that on March 2, 2020, a man whom I loved lost his life. We were both the victims of the cruel disease of alcoholism,” McCarter said in a press release Friday. “Dismissing the unjust charge against me can’t give back what I’ve lost, but I am relieved that this nightmare is over, and I am determined to once again thrive.”

In the same release, her daughter Ashley McCarter said their family is “pleased that our mom is finally free,” but still “deeply disappointed that today is not the complete cause for celebration we expected it to be.”

“It does not change the abuse my mom went through first by her ex-husband and then by the legal system at every turn,” she continued. “The fact that this prosecution lasted so long, and the judge’s decision today to extend the case for another 60 days before officially putting in the dismissal, is simply further abuse.”

Samah Sisay, an attorney and Survived & Punished New York organizer who worked on McCarter’s community defense team, called Judge Kiesel’s ruling “a testament to Tracy’s unwavering advocacy for herself and all criminalized survivors, as well as the power of community organizing.” But Sisay ultimately takes issue with Kiesel’s decision to allow an additional 60 days before McCarter’s case is officially sealed and can’t be reopened. “There is no reason for this other than to extend control over Tracy and to serve as retaliation for community support for her,” Sisay said in the release, adding, “Judges are not supposed to play the role of prosecutor.”

McCarter, who had been physically abused by her estranged husband Jim Murray for several years, found him at her door one evening in March 2020. Murray had a long history of struggling with alcoholism. When she let Murray into her home to help him, he demanded money from her and became violent, forcing McCarter to defend herself with a knife. He later died from a stab wound in the chest, and McCarter was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

After Murray’s death, McCarter served her six months on Rikers before a grand jury indicted her on the second-degree murder charge. Prosecutors at the time declined to present evidence that Murray had been violent toward McCarter, as well as prior police reports about Murray’s violent behavior, witness testimony that McCarter had tried to save his life and administered CPR, and testimony that Murray had gone on a drunken bender throughout McCarter’s building on the night of his death. Notably, a 2019 video shows Murray physically assaulting McCarter.

Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney in 2020, ultimately permitted McCarter to be released on electronic monitoring—which still barred her from “continuing her work as a healthcare professional, completing her advanced degree at Columbia University, seeking the treatment she needs to recover, or visiting her family, including her first grandchild,” who was born while she was incarcerated, a Color of Change petition for McCarter noted.

Throughout his first year as district attorney, Bragg previously proposed a plea deal that would allow McCarter to enter an Alford plea (which doesn’t require an admission of guilt) for second-degree manslaughter and menacing, and vacate the manslaughter conviction if she wasn’t arrested for separate crimes in the next year. Bragg also submitted a motion to reduce the charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter. Still, activists have long pointed out that Bragg could have done more—namely, by moving to dismiss the case against McCarter once he began his term.

Survived & Punished New York has emphasized that McCarter’s case reflects deeper issues with how the criminal legal system punishes survivors—especially those who are “imperfect” victims or practiced self-defense against abusers. A 2015 survey found about a quarter of women who called police to report intimate partner violence were arrested or threatened with arrest themselves. In the last decade, women of color like Marissa Alexander, Nan-Hui Jo, and Marcela Rodriguez have faced criminal charges or the threat of deportation for defending themselves against or trying to flee from abusers.

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