A minor fender bender in Rochester spiraled into chaos after the drivers confronted one another, and it ended when one driver shot the the other. The shooter now faces second-degree murder charges, but he’s claiming self defense. Avery Appelman was recently interviewed by the Star-Tribune to discuss the intricacies of the case, and we want to share them with you as well in today’s blog.
From Crash To Chaos
The incident began on the morning of January 14. Roads were slick that day, and as 25-year-old Alexander Weiss followed a car towards a stop sign, he watched the car in front of him slide past the sign and into the intersection. Weiss continued forward to stop at the appropriate mark in front of the stop sign, but the driver of the other vehicle, 17-year-old Muhammed Rahim, decided to put it in reverse and back up towards the stop sign he’d just slid through. Not knowing Weiss was there, Rahim backed into Weiss in what police described as a minor fender bender.
Upset at the accident, and likely believing that the other party was partly to blame, Weiss, Rahim and a passenger in Rahim’s car exited their vehicles to talk with one another. Here’s where things get tricky and details get murky.
Weiss’ Account – Weiss said he felt threatened by the pair, so he returned to his vehicle, grabbed his phone and his gun, which he is permitted to carry, and went back to the area where the other two men were standing. Weiss told the passenger that he was armed, and at that point, Weiss said that Rahim started to yell at him and threatened to beat him up over the accident. Weiss said that Rahim then approached him and got within a few inches of his face before shoving him in the chest. Weiss said he then brandished the gun to show Rahim he was armed. At that point, Weiss said Rahim spat at him and reached for the gun. Weiss took a step back and fired at Rahim from point blank range.
Rahim’s Passenger – Details are lacking, but according to Rahim’s passenger, he admitted that they threatened to beat up Weiss over the accident, but he said neither of them ever threw any punches.
Witness – Another driver who drove by the scene said she never saw Rahim raise a fist, advance or assault Weiss before he was shot.
Duty To Retreat
Minnesota has a number of general rules about how you are supposed to act if you feel threatened. You can act more aggressively if someone is threatening you in your home, but in general if you are out in public, there exists a “duty to retreat,” which means that if possible, you are expected to attempt to remove yourself from a situation instead of escalating it. Avery believes that Minnesota’s Duty to Retreat law will be the focal point of the case.
“The duty to flee doesn’t mean you need to run, just that you try to get away, even if only taking a few steps,” Appelman told the Star Tribune. “You need to disengage this particular encounter. … And then if somebody would reapproach you and re-engage, then you are no longer the aggressor.”
If Weiss took a step or two back while Rahim attempted to grab the gun, it could be considered an attempt to retreat. However, Avery believes the prosecution might point to other times during the encounter where Weiss could have retreated.
“He could have very easily just sat in his car and waited, right? And I think a prosecutor would point that out,” Appelman said. “This is a challenging case for everybody.”
It’s especially challenging considering the racial aspects that might come into play. Weiss is white, while Rahim grew up in Iraq and came to the US in 2012. Avery noted that even if race isn’t directly discussed during the trial, the subject is going to hang over the case.
“Even if it’s not said, it’s there,” said Appelman. “It’s going to be talked about.”
We’ll keep an eye on this case as it heads to trial. To read more about the incident, head on over to The Star Tribune to read their story about the case.