The Carver County man charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed driver following a roadside argument in St. Paul made his second court appearance Thursday morning without entering a plea.
Anthony J. Trifiletti, 24, who appeared behind a glass partition in an orange jail jumpsuit wearing a surgical mask and glasses, didn’t speak during the brief hearing at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center. His attorney, Tom Shiah, advocated for a reduction in bail and pushed for access to his client’s cellphone, which was confiscated by investigators earlier this month. Trifiletti’s bail remains set at $500,000.
Trifiletti, of Watertown, told police he feared for his life before opening fire on 39-year-old Douglas C. Lewis, striking him four times after Lewis collided with Trifiletti’s car and the two argued along the side of Burns Road off Hwy. 61 late on May 1. Trifiletti, who had a permit to carry, 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 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 Thursday, Shiah again advocated for a reduction in bail, saying that Trifiletti’s family is unable to come up with the $500,000 for his release. He also expressed concerns about no-contact restrictions at the jail amid COVID-19.
Although the facility has been accommodating to his visits, Shiah described the situation as “untenable in terms of preparations” and that it affects his ability to represent his client.
Assistant County Attorney Jake Murphy countered that the severity of the alleged crime warranted such a substantial bail amount. He also waved off the defense’s concerns about Trifiletti’s health and safety is the jail during the pandemic.
“The jail is at a historically low [inmate] population,” Murphy said, adding that there’s an inherent health risk regardless of whether he were free. Although other jails and prisons have faced outbreaks among inmate populations, Ramsey County has not reported a confirmed case of the virus.
The lawyers had a quick back-and-forth related to evidence discovery, each saying that they have not been granted access to Trifiletti or Lewis’ cellphones.
“It’s my understanding that after the incident, each party was on the phone,” Shiah said.
After hearing the arguments, Judge Leonardo Castro opted to leave bail unchanged — an announcement that elicited light clapping from Lewis’ relatives in the gallery.
Valerie Lewis, the victim’s sister, emerged from the courthouse relieved that Trifiletti remained behind bars. On Saturday, a handful of friends and family plan to meet in Chicago to bury Lewis, who will be laid to rest beside his mother.
Tight pandemic guidelines at the cemetery limit 10 people to his graveside service.
“I want y’all to keep us in your prayers,” Valerie Lewis said. “My brother got killed by a stranger, someone he didn’t know. Why do we continue to be strangers? ... This world is so far away from love.”
Trifiletti’s father, Paul Trifiletti, declined to comment to the media as he left the courthouse. Shiah also declined to speak.
“On that night, at that time and place, he justifiably felt his life was threatened and he acted to defend himself,” Shiah previously told the Star Tribune. “That’s it.”
On Monday, Murphy filed a motion in the case asking the judge to conceal the names of witnesses from the public, arguing that disclosure of sensitive information beyond legal counsel “may be harmful to the witnesses if seen by unauthorized persons.”
The judge has yet to rule on this issue.