Was Alexander Weiss acting in self-defense when he shot and killed 17-year-old Muhammed Rahim in January 2018 or had he committed second-degree murder?
The question is now in the hands of the six men and six women of the jury as deliberations began at about noon in Olmsted County District Court early Tuesday afternoon. Deliberations ran until 8:50 p.m. before the jury adjourned for the night; they are set to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Jurors began Tuesday hearing closing arguments from both Chief Deputy Olmsted County Attorney Eric Woodford and defense attorney James McGeeney.
Presentation of the evidence concluded Monday following the testimony of several members of the Rochester Police Department and a friend of Weiss' parents who spoke of his character.
Alexander Weiss, 26, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the Jan. 14, 2018, confrontation between Weiss and Muha…
“This is not a whodunit. This is not what this case is about,” Woodford said in his closing remarks. Weiss has not disputed that he shot and killed Rahim on that wintry Sunday morning but has maintained he was acting in self-defense.
“The defendant committed murder in the second-degree. That much is obvious,” Woodford said. “Was the defendant’s choice to take another person’s life, to end the life of a 17-year-old young man, … was it justified and should that choice be excused?”
Definition of defense
The jury was instructed that in order for Weiss’ actions to be considered self-defense, he must have had “reasonable grounds to believe that bodily injury is about to be inflicted upon him, to defend from an attack. In doing so, the person may use all force and means that he reasonably believes to be necessary and that would appear to a reasonable person, in similar circumstances, to be necessary to prevent an injury that appears to be imminent.”
Jurors were also instructed that the legal excuse of self-defense includes the duty to retreat or avoid the danger if reasonably possible.
“If you have reasonable choices other than killing someone, you must take them,” Woodford said. “Because if you don’t, you end up with a 17-year-old young men dead on the pavement.”
Likely a key point for the jurors to consider in their deliberations is at what point Weiss felt the threat that bodily injury was about to be inflicted upon him. Was it when he went back to his car to retrieve his phone and his handgun or was it later in the altercation?
The jury returned to the courtroom just before 3:45 p.m. to ask a question along those very lines.
It is the state’s burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Weiss did not act in self-defense.
Woodford repeatedly told the jurors that Weiss took a verbal altercation and “turned up the volume” by bringing out his handgun. He told the jurors that Weiss wrongly perceived or embellished the danger he faced that Sunday morning.
“Rahim could have done better. Unfortunately he never got a chance to do better,” Woodford said.
According to McGeeney, Rahim and his friend Noah Dukart’s actions were the unreasonable ones that day, not Weiss’.
McGeeney said that while Rahim’s death was certainly unnecessary, it was not because of Weiss’ actions.
“What was unnecessary and unreasonable were the actions and behaviors of Noah Dukart and Muhammed Rahim on 31st Street that morning,” McGeeney said.
The defense attorney told the jury he would be asking them to “do what may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life -- to find the man who has taken the life of another man not guilty.”
“I’m going to ask you to find Mr. Weiss not guilty because he is not guilty and the evidence you heard supports that,” McGeeney said.
Picking apart the testimony of witnesses Balchaynsh Balcha, Riley Bongiorno, Natalie Greenwood and Dukart, McGeeney said their testimonies were not enough to carry the state’s burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Weiss was not acting in self-defense.
“Mr. Weiss did not have a reasonable possibility to retreat from the danger that was created by Noah Dukart and Muhammed Rahim,” McGeeney said. “The state has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Alexander Weiss would have been able to retreat from the danger created by Noah Dukart and Muhammed Rahim.”
This is the second trial on these allegations. Following a weeklong trial this spring, during which Weiss testified in his own defense, a 12-member jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision and Judge Joseph Chase, who also presided over the first case, declared a mistrial.
Jury selection began in this case on Oct. 14. Opening remarks were made two days later.