Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tire-Slashing Trial: Defense Again Criticizes Nat'l Workers in Closing Statement

By Dennis A. Shook

The trial involving five Milwaukee Democratic campaigners accused of slashing tires on Republican Party vans during Election Day 2004 has now gone to the jury. The case went to the jury shortly before 3 p.m. If members have not reached a verdict by 5 p.m., the judge said he would ask them to go home and return tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.

In closing statements this afternoon, defense attorneys questioned the veracity of the national Democratic Party witnesses who testified that the Milwaukee campaigners had committed the tire slashings.

"The state is basing its case on the word of people who were suspects themselves and admitted that they lied," said defense attorney Craig Mastantuono, representing defendant Lewis Caldwell.

Defense attorney Robin Shellow, representing Sowande Omokunde, said of the national get-out-the-vote workers, who were the prosecution's witnesses, "these people all believe they have big political futures. The last thing they want is to be accused of tire-slashing."

But Shellow maintains the car identified by a security guard at GOP headquarters on West Capitol Drive on the morning of the event was rented by GOTV worker Opel Simmons, and driven by GOTV worker Leshaunda Joy Williams.

"The burden of proof is not on the defense," she said. "If there is any hypothesis that is consistent with the defendants' innocence, then you must find the defendants innocent."

Milwaukee County Assistant DA David Feiss said the national witnesses would not have been willing to come back to Milwaukee to testify if they didn't believe they were doing the right thing.

"Why would they risk damaging their careers?" Feiss said. "I ask the jury to use their common sense."

Feiss said for all the events to end up pointing to the five defendants as committing the crime, it would have to be more than simple circumstance.

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