Stakes Are Raised in Self-Defense Shooting Trial of Lawyer

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A week before trial, charges in the shooting of a Milwaukee lawyer have been upped to first-degree intentional homicide.

Theodore Edgecomb, 31, had been charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the Sept. 22, 2020, shooting of Jason Cleereman, 54, an immigration attorney and advocate.  Upping the charges could be a tactical move to counter a self-defense claim.  Prosecutors could win a conviction for second-degree intentional homicide. If jurors believed Edgecomb honestly feared for his life — but that his fear was unreasonable — he would be guilty of the lesser charge, and avoid a life sentence.

Edgecomb, who was riding a bicycle, and Cleereman, a passenger in a car driven by his wife, had exchanged words on Brady Street and Edgecomb punched Cleereman through the open window. The couple then followed Edgecomb as he rode up on the Holton St. bridge, where Cleereman got out and confronted Edgecomb.

On Monday, the judge also ruled he would allow prosecutors to refer to Cleereman as a victim. The defense asked that Borowski limit use of the word, which they consider prejudicial when self-defense is at issue. “This is not the Rittenhouse case,” Borowski said.

Kyle Rittenhouse said he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot two protesters and wounded a third during protests in Kenosha in August 2020. The judge at his trial earned national attention when he banned prosecutors from referring to the men who were shot as victims. A jury acquitted Rittenhouse, 18, of all charges.

Prosecutors are arguing a “consciousness of guilt” because the one big difference is that, while Rittenhouse surrendered within hours, Edgecomb fled Wisconsin and was arrested about six months later in Kentucky after using a fake name.

Edgecomb was on bail at the time in two domestic violence cases and was not supposed to have gun.

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