A grueling full day of jury selection took place in the New York State Supreme Court today, where six community members (all volunteers) are facing serious criminal charges and can face a possible lengthy prison sentence (of 15 plus years in a violent prison if found guilty).
The prosecution and the defense polled prospective jurors as to their work and interests in order to determine if they each can function as a fair and impartial judge based on the facts that will be presented during the course of the trial.
The six defendants are members of Shomrim who responded to an incident in December of 2007, which took place inside of 749 Eastern Parkway, one of the dormitories where Meshichist Bochurim who come from Israel to study in k’vutzeh reside. The incident began Erev Shabbos when a group of Meshichist Bochurim attempted to force another Bochur out of his room. When he showed resistance, the Bochur was attacked.
Later that Friday night, this Bochur, Chaim Dovid Wilhelm, asked one of his uncles if he could stay with him in his house for Shabbos. When asked why he needed a place to sleep when he already had a dorm room, Wilhelm explained that he was being kicked out of his room and that he was afraid to sleep there. Together with two of his uncles, Wilhelm returned that Motzai Shabbos to the dorm and attempted to settle the argument, but the situation grew out of their control. They called Shomrim to assist in settling the dispute.
Two Shomrim members responded to the scene, and after nearly 20 minutes of back and forth arguing, the matter seemed to have been resolved. As the group prepared to leave, the door opened and a mob of angry Bochurim entered the room, led by a cameraman who was filming the scene. The Shomrim members, fearing for their safety and the safety of others involved, called for backup and police assistance.
The group pushed and shoved as over 30 people packed into the tiny room. Shomrim members tried to exit the room, but were prevented from doing so. A brawl broke out and when police finally arrived on scene the incident was under control.
After the incident, a number of the Meshichist Bochurim, aided by another Crown Heights volunteer patrol group, were taken to the hospital, feigning injury. They then filed police reports against eleven of the Shomrim members who were present. Six of those claims made it to the present court case.
After a tremendous amount of political pressure was placed on the police department and the district attorney, Shomrim was charged with Gang Assault in the 2nd degree, Assault in the 2nd Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the 2nd Degree – All charges of felony carrying significant jail terms if convicted.
Today the defendants stand trial in Ceremonial 1 courtroom in the New York State Supreme Court located at 320 Jay Street, before the Hon. Judge Albert Tomei.
Yesterday, a collection fund for Pidyon Shvuim was established in an attempt to offset the costs of the trial. Organizers of the fund said that many donations have come in from Crown Heights and Flatbush, as well as from other parts of the world. “We are very encouraged by the amounts that have come in, but we still need more,” said one of the organizers, adding that they have established the site www.ShomrimDefense.com where donations can be made by credit card.
Shomrim Members were Gang Assaulted while Settling a Dispute