Md. neighborhood watch trial set against Fla. fury
Two brothers accused of beating a black teenager while patrolling an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood are set to go on trial Monday in a case with similarities to the Trayvon Martin shooting.
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It's unusual to have a trial in which the allegations mirror a case so prominent in the news, said Steven Levin, a former federal prosecutor.Skip to next paragraph
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"Since the Trayvon Martin case, people cannot help but think about that case and draw comparisons, whether they are fair or not," he said.
In the Werdesheim case, the six trial postponements could significantly hinder the defense's case, Levin said. However, the charges against Zimmerman since the last postponement may mean jurors won't feel that they need to somehow set things right through the case they are deciding.
Eliyahu Werdesheim was suspended from the neighborhood group while Avi was never a member, according to Nathan Willner, general counsel for Shomrim of Baltimore, a group that patrols neighborhoods with a large concentration of Jewish residents and institutions in the Baltimore area. Shomrim, which is Hebrew for guard, has about 30 volunteer, unarmed responders. It was founded in 2005 to provide security and gather information for police, Willner said.
While the case has not garnered the attention the Martin shooting has, Cortly C.D. Witherspoon, president of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has organized protests outside the courthouse during court hearings and has been frustrated by the postponements.
"We feel that justice should have been served long ago. I would contend that the urgency for justice [in this case] is affected by the Trayvon Martin case because of the similarities," he said.
Members of the area's Jewish community also rallied outside the courthouse when the brothers appeared in court to enter not guilty pleas in February. Jakob Lurman, the owner of a barbershop, was among them.
"I have a business in the community. Shomrim do good work," Lurman said. "I don't know what happened in that case, but I wanted to show support."
Jewish neighborhood watch groups in New York City have faced accusations of unnecessary force against blacks, creating tensions between the Jewish and black communities. That hasn't yet happened in Baltimore, according to the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. The organization of predominantly black clergy met with leaders of the area's Jewish community to keep relationships between the two communities strong.
"We were already working with them when this came up," Gwynn said. "It hasn't done much damage yet."
Baltimore is a city that's 64 percent black, and the jury will likely have eight or nine black members. So race will be a factor, said University of Baltimore School of Law professor and practicing attorney Byron Warnken.
"What the defense has to do is completely downplay that," he said, and show the force was necessary to prevent a crime.
Susan Green, an attorney for Avi Werdesheim, said last month that she hoped the media coverage would not create an atmosphere that would make it difficult for her client, but declined to comment further. The attorney for Eliyahu Werdesheim did not return calls for comment.
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