BALTIMORE -- Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Pamela J. White convicted Eliyahu Werdesheim, one of the two brothers accused of assaulting a teenager in Baltimore, of false imprisonment and second-degree assault Thursday afternoon, following a week-long trial. The second brother, Avi, was cleared of all charges.
Eliyahu, 24, and Avi Werdesheim, 22, had been charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and carrying a deadly weapon -- a walkie-talkie issued by a neighborhood watch group -- with the intent to injure. Eliyahu was cleared of the weapons charge. His sentencing is scheduled for June 27.
Speaking about Eliyahu, Judge White said, "He relied on his military training to take Ausby down. ... I also find that the contact was not legally justified."
Prosecutors argued that the brothers intimidated Corey Ausby, 16, as he walked down a residential street in the Park Heights neighborhood to a bus stop, causing the teen to pull a nail-studded board from a construction site. In response, the brothers surrounded the teen, struck him in the head with a walkie-talkie and held him on the ground, Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Wiggins told White during the trial.
Eliyahu, was a member of Shomrim, an Orthodox Jewish citizens' watch group, on Nov. 19, 2010, when he and his brother responded to a suspicious-person call that came over the walkie-talkie. The brothers were in Eliyahu's car, on their way home between noon and 1 p.m., when Eliyahu decided to look for the suspect.
Defense attorneys argued that when the Werdesheims arrived on the scene, they witnessed Ausby looking in the windows of homes and pulling on the handle of an SUV's passenger door.
As any neighborhood watch member would, Eliyahu began following and watching Ausby from his car, according to his attorney, Andrew I. Alperstein. Avi was not a Shomrim member and just happened to be in the car with his brother at the time of the incident, said Susan R. Green, the younger Werdesheim's attorney.
Both sides agree that the brothers got out of the car and spoke to Ausby after they watched him for a while. What was said during that conversation is contested.
Though the brothers were not charged with a hate crime, Wiggins argued that the white, Jewish men told the black, male teen -- a "child," according to the prosecutor -- that he was not welcome in the neighborhood. The defendants argued that any statement made to Ausby that he didn't "belong around here," according to police charging documents, was made because it was the middle of a school day and the teen should have been in class.
Regardless of what was said, both the state and defense believe that the conversation came to an end and Ausby walked over to a construction site, broke a board off of a wooden pallet and began carrying it with him down the street. Ausby was walking away from the brothers, who continued to watch him from inside Eliyahu's car.
After a short time passed, the older Werdesheim got out of the car again. What happened then was the crux of the case.
Wiggins, the prosecutor, argued that Eliyahu was upset that Ausby didn't respect his authority as a Shomrim neighborhood watch member. He says the two brothers surrounded the teen, Avi hit him in the back of the head with his brother's walkie-talkie and then they made him stay on the ground.
Alperstein argued that Eliyahu got out of the car again to calm Ausby, who suddenly moved to attack. Eliyahu deflected Ausby's arm that wielded the board and hit him with the walkie-talkie in response, Alperstein said.
The Werdesheims quickly left after the incident and other Shomrim members held Ausby to the ground, he said.
Ausby was brought to court last week to testify but told Judge White while he was on the stand that he wanted the charges against the Werdesheim brothers dropped. He refused to respond to many questions and was not cross-examined by the defense attorneys, so White struck everything he said in court from the evidentiary record.
Eliyahu Werdesheim testified this week, providing a narrative of the assault that supported his claim that he was defending himself when he struck Ausby. Avi, whose defense was that he was on the scene with his brother but never came in physical contact with Ausby, did not take the stand.
On the last day of November 2010, Eliyahu, a former Israeli special-forces soldier, was arrested at the home of his now-wife and charged in the assault. A felony charge against him was dropped around the same time, in late January 2011, that Avi was charged.
The brothers pleaded not guilty to the charges in February 2011 and their trial was initially planned for the following May, though it was postponed six times by the defense because of illness, to accommodate the brothers' attorneys' schedules and allow more time for them to conduct their investigation.
Last week, the Werdesheims' attorneys requested another delay -- or transfer of the case to a court outside the city -- because of the cases' similarities to the killing of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager who was shot by a neighborhood watch captain.
Green and Alperstein reconsidered their request, though, and agreed to a bench trial, giving up the brothers' right to have their cases heard by a jury of their peers.
The case sparked tension among the Jewish and black communities in Northwest Baltimore, brought forth questions about the role and governance of Shomrim and sparked accusations that State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein was favoring the interests of Jews over the well being of blacks.
The younger Werdesheim is a pre-med student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a 4.0 grade point average, according to his attorney. His older brother, a recent newlywed and fitness instructor, is studying pre-law and business at the Johns Hopkins University.
Ausby's mother, Erica Maddox, has filed a $6.5 million civil suit on her son's behalf against the two Werdesheim brothers, Shomrim and a security agency that Eliyahu started. That case is pending in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
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