Avi Werdesheim, 20, and Eliyahu Werdesheim, 23
The brothers, who are white and Jewish, have claimed self-defense, saying the teen was holding a nail-studded board. Local civil rights activists hope the Martin case will draw more attention to what they believe was racial profiling by neighborhood watch vigilantes.
Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim are accused of beating a 15-year-old boy who was walking through a Baltimore neighborhood in November 2010. The brothers pulled up next to the teen in a vehicle, then got out and “surrounded him,” according to charging documents. The passenger threw the teen to the ground and the driver hit him in the head with a hand-held radio and patted him down.
The teen remembered the driver yelling, “You wanna (mess) with us, you don’t belong around here, get outta here!” according to court documents, which do not identify which brother was driving.
While the teen struggled, a third man got out of a van and kneed the teen, pinning him to the ground. The teen told police that he stopped struggling and the third man continued to search him, while the teen insisted he didn’t have anything on him.
Eliyahu Werdesheim told the Baltimore Jewish Times that he was acting in self-defense because the teen was holding the piece of wood. The teen picked up the board during the encounter, but put it back down, said J. Wyndal Gordon, an attorney for the teen’s family. He said the family did not want to speak publically.
After the trio left, the teen called police and was taken to a hospital with a cut on the back of his head and a broken wrist, according to court documents. Using a photo book compiled by investigators, the teen later identified Eliyahu Werdesheim, now 24, as one of the men who assaulted him. He was arrested after about 10 days; his now 21-year-old brother was charged two months later.
The brothers are charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and carrying a deadly weapon (the hand-held radio). The pair face up to 13 years in prison if convicted on all three counts. A third man, identified in a lawsuit brought by the teen’s family as Ronald Rosenbluth, does not face charges.
Law enforcement officials emphasize that neighborhood watchers’ responsibility is to report crime, and leave interventions to police. Most follow the rules, and confrontations are rare.
“We owe a lot of our success to communities that have stepped up and partnered with police. They help us out,” Guglielmi said. “But when they step too far, we have to hold people accountable.”
In the Florida case, authorities charged neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman this month with second-degree murder in Martin’s death Feb. 26. Zimmerman claims self-defense, but Martin’s family claims he targeted Martin mainly because he was black. Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother Hispanic.
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.
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.