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Two juries refuse to charge man with murder

On Behalf of | Dec 26, 2019 | Criminal defense

The Olmsted County Attorney’s office will not retry a case where a Rochester man stood trial twice for a second-degree murder charge. The case involves a January 14, 2018, incident where the defendant shot another driver after the two were involved in a fender bender. In both trials, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

The defendant, Alexander Weiss, claims he acted in self-defense when he shot 17-year-old Muhammad Rahim in the chest at close range after he and a passenger in his car antagonized the man. Minnesota law dictates that deadly force is only appropriate when attempting to avoid danger, and there is no other option.

According to news reports, this incident revolves around Rahim missing a turn and sliding into a curb in northeast Rochester. Weiss, who has a permit to carry a sidearm and is an Eagle Scout as well as a church and YMCA volunteer, stopped behind them. Not seeing that someone else had stopped, Rahim then backed up his car to leave, hitting Weiss’s car. Rahim and a passenger (who admitted to taking Xanax and using marijuana earlier that day) then got out of their vehicle, aggressively confronting Weiss, shouting at him from inches away from his face.

Weiss then went back to his car to retrieve his phone and pistol. He then told the two he was armed, showing the gun but pointing it at the ground. Rahim or his passenger then spat at Weiss, telling him the pistol did not look real and to shoot them if it was real.

Duty to retreat at issue

Both hung juries were unwilling to unanimously say that Weiss did not act in self-defense. While the charge was murder, Weiss claimed that he feared for his life and felt that deadly force was appropriate. Minnesota has a “duty to retreat” requirement, which is different from the “stand your ground” condition used by many states. This law stipulates that a person can use deadly force as a last resort. The jury felt that Weiss was justified, if only because the law dictates that drivers involved in an accident can’t leave the scene until law enforcement arrives and Weiss did not feel safe at the scene of the accident.

Jury trials often protect defendants

Both juries were unable to say unanimously that Weiss was guilty of second-degree murder. This charge involves knowingly killing another human, but without premeditation. It comes with a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Weiss may have shot Rahim, but it is clear that jurors thought that the charges and penalty were not appropriate for the circumstances involved, thus choosing not to convict him. When a defendant faces criminal charges, it is sometimes in their best interests to defend themselves before a jury to get the justice they deserve.