Avi and Eliyahu Werdesheim, Jewish brothers accused of beating a black teen while guarding their Park Heights neighborhood, withdrew a request to change the court venue Tuesday and elected to move forward with a Baltimore trial by judge, waiving their right to be heard by a jury of their peers.
They had previously complained that media coverage of their case, coupled with comparisons to the Florida shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was gunned down by a zealous neighborhood watch captain, made it impossible to impanel a fair jury in the city.
Eliyahu Werdesheim, 24, told Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Pamela White, however, that the brothers "feel very confident in [her] judgment." Opening statements in the trial, which could stretch into next week, are set for Wednesday morning.
The decision came at the close of a full day of hearings on various court motions Tuesday, which included the testimony of a former Baltimore Jewish Times reporter, who shared an unedited version of an article he wrote with prosecutors, chronicling some of younger brother Avi's alleged involvement in the incident.
According to police records, Eliyahu Werdesheim was a member of Shomrim, an Orthodox Jewish citizens' watch group, on Nov. 19, 2010, when he allegedly confronted 15-year-old Corey Ausby in the Park Heights area, telling him, "You don't belong around here." His brother, now 21, supposedly threw the boy to the ground, the police account claims, and one of the brothers is said to have hit Ausby with a hand-held radio.
Avi Werdesheim was not a member of Shomrim, his attorney, Susan Green, said Tuesday.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges, and attorneys have claimed Ausby was armed with a nail-studded board and attacked first. Ausby, who appeared in court Tuesday as a witness, has not been charged in the incident. The Werdesheims are charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and carrying a deadly weapon with the intent to injure.
One of their lawyers spent the morning arguing for the suppression of a photo identification of Eliyahu Werdesheim by Ausby, claiming the array shown to the young man was unfair and suggestive. Ausby, speaking from the witness stand, said he identified Eliyahu Werdesheim as the man who assaulted him "because it was the truth," and White denied the motion to suppress.
Defense lawyers also sought to suppress a 911 call by a man who saw the incident and called for police to check it out, describing it as a citizens group of white male members in three to four cars who had stopped a "black youth" and were "holding him to the ground."
"I'm not sure what it's about," the man told emergency dispatchers, "but it doesn't [appear] right."
White reserved her ruling on whether the recording could be admitted.
Much of the afternoon was taken up by testimony from Phil Jacobs, a former Baltimore Jewish Times reporter who interviewed the brothers on Dec. 6, 2010, after Eliyahu had been arrested, but before Avi was alleged to have been involved. The younger brother was charged in January 2011.
Jacobs wrote an article that day based on the interview saying Avi was in the car with Eliyahu when he confronted Ausby, but the published version did not mention the younger man. It's unclear who removed the name, though Jacobs said it was the paper's practice to show articles to sources for fact-checking purposes when warranted.
In an email sent months later to Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Wiggins, well after Avi was charged, Jacobs attached the draft version of the article, noting that "it's not going to win many dinner invitations with the Jewish community," but adding that his conscience required him to reveal the truth.
Jacobs, who said he is acquainted with the Werdesheim family, told the court that the brothers believed they would get more balanced and favorable coverage from him than from the mainstream local media, which had thus far produced a "great deal of bad press" on the incident.
Defense attorneys questioned how he knew Avi was in the car, claiming Jacobs made a false assumption when Eliyahu used the word "we" to describe the day's events. But Jacobs said he recalled Avi's name's being explicitly mentioned at least once and the rest was implied.
White ultimately found Jacobs' account credible and said the interview could be used to show a tacit admission by Avi of his placement in the car.
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