Ramsey County jury refuses to convict
In St. Paul last week another trial involving a White man, Anthony Trifiletti, killing a Black man, Douglas Lewis, ended in a mistrial as the jury could not reach a verdict.
Last week a Ramsey County jury refused to convict Trifiletti of second-degree murder in the shooting death of 39-year-old Lewis on May 1 in St. Paul. After only 27 hours of deliberation, the jury sent two notes to the judge declaring they were hopelessly deadlocked, resulting in a mistrial.
The local, national and international attention given to the Chauvin murder trial has overshadowed this case, which occurred only weeks before George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Chauvin as fellow officers looked on. It may be yet another indication of how race relations are played out in the Twin Cities.
In his opening statement in the murder trial, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Hassan Tahir told the jury that decisions were made “based on appearance, bias, and just a complete misreading of a situation based on the anger that had gradually been increasing as a result of a road rage incident.”
“This was a verbal argument that Mr. Trifiletti turned into a deadly encounter,” said Tahir.
Trifiletti’s attorney Thomas Shiah countered in his opening that his client acted in self-defense though there was no evidence that he had been attacked by Lewis, nor did the deceased have a gun. Shiah argued in court that his client faced a “justifiable threat” because he thought Lewis had a gun and was going to shoot him. He said his client “was scared and believed he was going to die.”
What exactly led up to the deadly encounter remains unclear, but Trifiletti, age 25 from Watertown, Minnesota, told police that Lewis’ car had bumped his truck from behind. According to Trifiletti, they pulled over supposedly to share insurance information. Words were exchanged and both drivers got back in their car.
But according to the prosecutor, Trifiletti shouted at Lewis and Lewis got back out of his vehicle. Trifiletti, who has a gun permit, subsequently fired at Lewis, striking him four times and killing him.
Trifiletti told police that he thought Lewis was reaching under his shirt near his waistband. Trifiletti claimed that he thought Lewis, who was unarmed, was going for a gun, and he told police at the time that he “feared for his life.” The shooter’s claims bear a sharp resemblance to the words police use when they use excessive force or kill someone unarmed.
Valerie Lewis, Donald’s eldest sister, was upset by the lack of a verdict. Her family is originally from Chicago. “Ain’t that something?” she said. “He came here to get away from issues in Chicago and wound up losing his life.
“I am tired of White men being able to say ‘I was afraid for my life’ to get away with killing Black men,” she said. “It should be considered a racist statement, and people should get in trouble for using it. Too many White men have used that and got off with murdering Black people. It’s The Man’s justice system. I don’t expect no more or no less.”
She said she was disappointed and believes that the prosecutors did their job.
According to Lewis, it was her understanding that one juror could not find Trifiletti guilty. She said she heard the judge say that one man should not be able to hold up the process. She reiterated that she thought it was a travesty that one person could hold up justice. “Justice is unjust,” she said.
She said the witness to the shooting was driving toward the two men and saw them walking away after having a brief conversation or dispute. The witness said she saw Trifiletti return to his truck, reach inside, grab a gun and come out shooting. Lewis said the witness’ credibility was questioned by the defense because of a previous conviction for fraud.
“My brother was not the aggressor,” said Lewis. She noted the defense attorney never once mentioned her brother by name. She also said that the defense continued to insist that her brother, who she said was no more than 5’6”, was 5’11” in an effort to paint him as a big scary Black man.
Lewis said she didn’t understand how Trifiletti had a gun permit considering he had been found guilty of a DWI more than once. “How does he have a license to carry when he blatantly disrespects the law?” she asked.
Besides the DWI, Trifiletti was also involved in a traffic accident that caused the death of another motorist, Ricardo Torres, in a motorcycle crash in 2019.
“This was just another modern-day lynching,” Lewis said of her brother’s killing. “The strange fruit ain’t hanging in trees now. They are left lying on the ground.”
As of the publication of this story, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office has announced that Anthony Trifiletti will be retried for killing Douglas Lewis.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.