A judge convicted one brother and exonerated the other Thursday in the 2010 beating of a black teenager they encountered while responding to a suspicious person report received by an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch group.
Judge Pamela White ruled from the bench against Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim, 24 and 22, highlighting concerns about the lack of credibility of the testimony from members of the group, Shomrim of Baltimore.
The brothers opted for a bench trial after withdrawing a motion to move their trial because of publicity comparing their case to the fatal shooting of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin would make it tough to find an impartial jury.
Eliyahu was convicted of false imprisonment and second-degree assault, and cleared of carrying a deadly weapon with intent to injure and Avi was acquitted of all three counts.
The brothers had no visible reaction when the verdict was read, though Eliyahu's wife left the courtroom in tears. Their attorneys said the brothers were relieved by Avi's verdict, but devastated by the judgment against Eliyahu. The brothers could have faced up to 13 years if convicted on all three charges. Eliyahu now faces up to 10 years on the assault count at sentencing in June.
State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein said he was gratified by the result.
Prosecutors said the brothers attacked the teen, hitting him with a radio and holding him on the ground. Eliyahu testified that he acted in self-defense when the teen attacked him with a nail-studded plank and said his brother, who was not a group member, wasn't involved in the fight. The judge rejected Eliyahu's claim of self-defense.
The small courtroom was packed with spectators, many from the Jewish and black communities, and extra sheriff's deputies were stationed around the room as White announced the verdict and explained her reasoning behind the decision.
The brothers' actions were driven by their perception that the teen was casing homes and cars and that Shomrim units labeled him as suspicious for that conduct, White said. They got out of Eliyahu's red Mazda Miata to confront the teen and Avi Werdesheim frightened the teen by saying, "We know who you are; we saw you on Park Heights; you don't belong here," she said.
When the brothers got back in their car, the teen ripped a piece of plank from a wooden pallet and swung it as he continued walking down the street, White said. Eliyahu Werdesheim decided to confront the teen again to "relieve" him of the plank, relying on his military training to take down the teen, injuring him in the process by hitting him in the head with the radio.