The fates of two brothers charged with beating a black teenager while patrolling for a Jewish neighborhood watch are in the hands of a judge in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
The two sides presented their closing arguments to Judge Pamela White on Wednesday and she plans to announce her decision Thursday afternoon. Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim are charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and carrying a deadly weapon in the 2010 beating of the 15-year-old.
Eliyahu Werdesheim, 24, testified that he responded to a suspicious person call and acted in self-defense. He says the teen picked up a nail-studded board after they first spoke. When he tried to engage the teen a second time to defuse the situation, he says the teen attacked him.
Werdesheim said he regrets trying to calm the agitated teen with the verbal de-escalation skills he learned in the Israeli military. The newest member of the Shomrim of Baltimore watch group believed it was just a misunderstanding.
“I was going to try to reassure him that I was just a neighborhood watchman,” he said. “In hindsight, I very much regret the decision. But at the time, I had successfully de-escalated situations many times before.”
The brothers, who are white and Jewish, opted for a bench trial after withdrawing a motion to move their trial because publicity comparing their case to the fatal shooting of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
Eliyahu Werdesheim testified that he was on his way home with his brother when he heard a call on the Shomrim radio for a suspicious person and responded. He said he found the teen looking into windows of homes and trying the door of an SUV.
Once the teen saw him watching, Eliyahu Werdesheim said he got out of his car and explained that he was a Shomrim member and he was watching because he had seen the teen walking in people’s yards. But he testified that his brother, Avi, who was not a Shomrim member, got out of the car, told the teen he didn’t belong there, he belonged in school, and that upset the teen.
The teen walked away, but he pulled a plank from a wooden pallet near a home under construction and carried it with him, Werdesheim testified.
“Maybe he was nervous and having the wood made him feel better,” he said. “I understood why he was nervous. There was misunderstanding.”
As he drove ahead of the teen, he testified that he saw a woman walking a dog and worried that the situation could be bad, he decided to try to de-escalate it. He made sure his brother stayed in the car and hoped to reassure the agitated teen that they were just the neighborhood watch.
But when he got out of the car and began to speak, Werdesheim testified the teen rushed at him, raising the board, and he noticed the nails sticking out. He couldn’t run or get back in his car, so he deflected the board with his left arm and hit the teen in the head with his right hand, which still held his radio. He and attorney Andrew Alperstein re-enacted the exchange for Judge Pamela White using a replica board.
When the teen hit the ground, the board fell and Werdesheim said he threw it away so it couldn’t be used again. Other Shomrim members ran up and one told the brothers to leave because their presence wasn’t helping, he said. Werdesheim said when he got home and called Alperstein, who is now his attorney in this case, to ask him about Maryland self-defense law.
“I was sure I was defending myself,” he said, but he wanted to get a better understanding of the state’s law.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Wiggins asked Werdesheim why he felt it necessary to reignite the situation if the teen was not walking on people’s property anymore.
“I had no reason to think it would end badly,” he said.