Weiss trial

Alexander Weiss returns to court at the Olmsted County Government Center Tuesday morning for the second day of trial. (Ken Klotzbach/kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

"There has been a man shot. I need an ambulance and a police unit."

Those were the words of Alexander Weiss as he called 911 moments after the fatal shot that killed 17-year-old Mohammed Rahim. Thursday was the first time the seven men and seven women of the jury were able to hear Weiss speak about the January 2018 incident.

The 911 call recording came as part of Sgt. Steve Beery's testimony Thursday morning in Olmsted County District Court. This morning marked the second day of trial for Weiss.

Weiss, 26, has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge in connection with a Jan. 14, 2018, confrontation with Muhammed Rahim. The incident followed an automobile crash involving Weiss’ Subaru and the Chevrolet Cavalier Rahim was driving. Weiss did not dispute that he caused Rahim’s death, but claims he acted in self-defense.

As part of Beery's testimony, jurors watched about 15 minutes of grainy surveillance footage taken from an apartment complex that captured the incident. Due to the placement of the camera and its proximity to an exhaust vent, portions of the incident were completed covered by exhaust or steam. 

Prior to a morning break, Rochester police investigator Ryan Edge showed surveillance footage taken from a nearby residence that shows Weiss' path to the crash scene and captures audio of the single shot fired, the commotion that ensued and the arrival of law enforcement.

Selection of 14 jurors for the trial began around 1:30 p.m. Monday and concluded at the end of day Tuesday. The trial is expected to last five days, with deliberations likely to begin next Tuesday.

Looking for a better life

Following the officers’ testimonies, Rahim's older sister took the stand. Celine Raheem, 21, said that her family moved from northern Iraq to Rochester in 2012 for better education opportunities and safety. Less than three years apart in age, Raheem said she was close with her brother.

"It was me and him until my little brother was born," she said.

Jurors also learned that Rahim had worked at Chipotle and that his favorite drink was a chocolate shake from Culver's.

Defense attorney James McGeeney did not ask any questions of Raheem.  

Next on the stand was a Rochester woman who witnessed the shooting on the way to pick up a friend for church. The woman, Balchaynsh Balcha, testified that she was unable to pull into the apartment building’s parking lot that morning because a car, later determined to be the one driven by Rahim, was in the way.

She stopped and waited for the vehicle to move and saw three men standing on her left side. Balcha said she didn’t know what the men were doing but she took off once the gun was fired and flagged down an officer.

Balcha said she saw Weiss with his phone and did not see him cock his gun.

During cross-examination, it was revealed that Balcha was only on scene for about 13 seconds. Surveillance video shows her car arriving and leaving.

‘There was a lot of screaming’

Rahim’s friends and passengers Riley Bongiorno, 20, and Natalie Greenwood, 18, also testified. Both were also called as witnesses during the first trial.

Bongiorno told the jury that she, Greenwood, Rahim and a fourth friend, Noah Dukart, had been hanging out the night before and had been out all night together. She said that after the car Rahim was driving crashed into the curb, she hit her face on the seat, which broke her nose, and hit her head on the car window resulting in a concussion.

She testified that Rahim was the first to get out of the car and then later Dukart exited. She said that as she was getting out of the car, Rahim was shot in the chest. 

“From there it got really hectic and chaotic,” she said. “There was a lot of screaming.”

Before the shot was fired, Bongiorno said Rahim was just standing there, although on cross-examination it was revealed that she told officers shortly after that Rahim had raised his hand. She attempted to clarify her statement Thursday afternoon, saying that she may have misphrased it when she spoke to police and that Rahim had his fist balled up at his side.

After the shot was fired, Weiss was “scary calm,” Bongiorno said. “I don’t know how a person reacts after shooting somebody.”

During cross-examination, McGeeney raised several inconsistencies between Bongiorno’s statements she gave in court Thursday and during the first trial as well as when she first spoke with police shortly after the incident.

When Greenwood took the stand, she said she remembered hearing voices outside of the car but only got out of the car after she heard the gunshot. Greenwood and Rahim had started seeing each other a few weeks before the incident.

Dr. Peter Lin, a medical examiner with the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office, testified that Rahim’s cause of death was a gunshot wound to the torso and that the manner of death was homicide. The bullet went through Rahim’s chest wall, heart, esophagus, aorta and spinal cord before it stopped in his backbone.

Last to take the stand Thursday was Rochester police investigator Jean Valere. Valere interviewed Balcha, Greenwood and Dukart and was briefly questioned on what he learned from each of them.

Through Valere’s testimony, jurors learned that the two phone calls to 911 made from Weiss’ phone that day occurred at 8:19:52 a.m. and 8:20:38 a.m. The first call only lasted 15 seconds while the second call was more than a minute and a half.

On Wednesday, jurors heard opening statements from Chief Deputy Olmsted County Attorney Eric Woodford and McGeeney. Five members of the Rochester Police Department took the stand throughout the day, recounting their roles in responding to the shooting near the intersection of East River Road and 31st Street Northeast.

Jurors were also shown more than four dozen photos from the scene as well as body camera footage from Officer Brian Roussell. Roussell was the first officer on scene and was the one who placed Weiss under arrest that day.

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.

The case is scheduled to resume 9 a.m. Friday. The prosecution will likely rest its case that morning following testimony from a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and another member of the Rochester Police Department. Weiss is likely to take the stand in his own defense before the end of the day.