A Carver County man charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed driver following a roadside argument in St. Paul last weekend made his first court appearance Friday, where his bail was lowered to $500,000.
During the hearing, Anthony J. Trifiletti, 24, spoke only three words confirming that he understood Judge Kelly Olmstead. Trifiletti, who appeared behind a glass partition in an orange jail jumpsuit wearing a surgical mask and glasses, said nothing else during the 20-minute hearing at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center.
Olmstead set his bail at $500,000, on the condition that he remain under supervision of electronic home monitoring, surrender all firearms, use no drugs or alcohol and complete a chemical health assessment. Bail without conditions was set at $750,000.
Trifiletti, of Watertown, told police he feared for his life before opening fire on 39-year-old Douglas C. Lewis, striking him four times last Friday night after Lewis collided with Trifiletti’s car and the two argued along the side of Burns Road off Hwy. 61. Trifiletti alleged that Lewis appeared to be reaching toward his waistband as he advanced toward Trifiletti.
But Lewis’ family and friends believe Trifiletti, who is white, perceived Lewis, who is black, as a threat because of his race and is now claiming self-defense as an excuse.
Trifiletti initially fled the crime scene, but quickly returned after his father advised him to over the phone, according to second-degree murder charges. He surrendered to police that night.
In court Friday, prosecutor Sabrina Spangler argued that Trifiletti’s bail should remain at $1 million, saying that the severity of the alleged crime warranted such a substantial amount.
She also waived off the defense’s concerns related to Trifiletti’s safety inside the jail amid heightened media attention and COVID-19.
“Our Ramsey County jail staff is more than equipped to take care of inmates,” Spangler said. Although other jails and prisons have faced outbreaks among inmate populations, so far Ramsey County has not reported a confirmed case of the virus.
Trifiletti’s attorney, Tom Shiah, called that bail amount “excessive and inappropriate,” and advocated for a lower amount with stringent conditions.
“His family is not wealthy,” Shiah said.
Shiah cited Trifiletti’s lifelong community ties and employment at a Twin Cities auto dealership as proof that he is not a flight risk and could be counted on to make future court appearances. Trifiletti lives with his father, but frequently runs errands for his mother in Eagan, who struggles with severe COPD, according to court filings.
Shiah expressed concerns about restricted access at the jail, saying he worries for both Trifiletti’s health and his own should he make numerous trips to the facility.
“I need to be able to have a face-to-face, sit-down with my client,” he said. “It’s not going to work over the phone.”
After hearing from both sides, Olmstead offered the conditional bail and set Trifiletti’s next court date for May 21.
It was an unusual scene, as every member of the judicial staff wore masks — and some donned latex gloves — as precautions against the coronavirus pandemic. Tight courthouse restrictions meant that Trifiletti’s father and Lewis’ family were separated into small conference rooms at the back of the gallery. Two members of the news media marked the lone observers from inside the courtroom.
Around 20 others were forced to huddle in the hallway until the proceeding was over. They surrounded Lewis’ sister as she emerged.
“I hope he stays locked in there,” Valerie Lewis said afterward. “He said he was afraid but he showed so much courage with that gun.”
Among her supporters was Karen Malave and her son, the family of a 45-year-old Cottage Grove man who died in a motorcycle crash involving Trifiletti, who was also on a motorcycle, last spring. The collision killed Ricardo Torres just five minutes away from his house and left Trifiletti hospitalized with serious injuries. A photo on social media — that’s since been deleted — showed a large scar running down Trifiletti’s torso where he had surgery to remove his spleen and half his pancreas.
Trifiletti never faced criminal charges in the connection with the crash.
“It’s pretty sad that [Lewis’ family] is going through what we went through,” Malave said.
Trifiletti’s father, Paul Trifiletti, declined to comment to the media as he left the courthouse. Shiah briefly spoke, but offered few details about the murder case. He declined to say where Trifiletti was heading before getting in a deadly altercation with Lewis.
“On that night, at that time and place, he justifiably felt his life was threatened and he acted to defend himself,” Shiah said. “That’s it.”