A nearly all-white jury was seated Tuesday after days of questioning for the trial of Allen Scarsella, who's charged with shooting five African-American people demonstrating against the police shooting of Jamar Clark in November 2015.
Prosecutors opened their case by describing Scarsella's passion for guns and dislike of black people as crucial factors that allegedly led him to shoot protesters the night of Nov. 23, 2015. The shootings took place near the 4th Precinct police station in north Minneapolis, where people had gathered for more than a week following Clark's killing.
Scarsella, 24, has pleaded not guilty to the seven felony counts he faces, including first-degree assault.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Judith Hawley said Scarsella brought a gun to the protest that he allegedly described in a text message as "specially designed by Browning to kill brown people."
Scarsella's views on race and African-Americans in particular will likely play a prominent role in the state's case.
Before the trial started, attorneys questioned potential jurors for six days, largely focusing on race, Black Lives Matter and guns. Eventually, a jury of 11 men and three women, none of whom is African-American, was chosen.
On Tuesday, Hawley read from several messages she said were sent by Scarsella that included either racial epithets or disparaging remarks about "brown people."
Public defender Peter Martin told the jurors that Scarsella is not on trial because of his attitudes, but that his client feared for his safety.
Martin said Scarsella and three other men — Daniel Macey, Joseph Backman and Nathan Gustavsson — went to the protest to observe and livestream the event. Scarsella and the others didn't approach any of the protesters, Martin said.
The four men were soon surrounded by 30 to 40 protesters who asked why they were there, Scarsella's attorney said, and demanded the men remove their ski masks.
After Scarsella yelled at them to stay back, six or seven people grabbed and punched him and Gustavsson, Martin said.
Martin described his client as "scared out of his mind" and thought he saw someone in the group with a gun. So, Scarsella pulled out his weapon and "bullets flew everywhere."
One of the men injured by the shooting, Tevin King, who was 19 at the time, suffered a serious wound to his abdomen.
The trauma surgeon who treated King that night will testify that had he arrived by ambulance 30 minutes later, he would have died, Hawley said. Doctors decided to leave the bullet inside him.
King, as well as the other men wounded in the shooting are expected to testify. Prosecutors say they intend to call a number of police officers, forensic experts and possibly some of the other men who were with Scarsella. The three are awaiting trial on lesser charges.
Jury was questioned on racial attitudes
One man, who appeared to be of East Indian or Central Asian descent, during the questioning period said that growing up in Minnesota he was teased and called names.
The judge asked him if the other kids thought he was black. The juror replied that's why he thought he was being teased.
Several jurors have described how they strongly oppose racism.
However, a few of them have said they have problems with the protests organized by Black Lives Matter when interstate highways were blocked.
But prosecutor Hawley told the jury, "the case is not about Black Lives Matter" — it's about Scarsella.
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