The Olmsted County Attorney’s Office has dropped a murder charge against a Rochester man who fatally shot a driver after the two were involved in 2018 fender bender. The case went to trial this year — twice — but ended in mistrial both times after the juries were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
Alexander Weiss, who said he acted in self-defense, was facing a second-degree murder charge over the Jan. 14, 2018, shooting that left Muhammed Rahim, 17, dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest at close range.
“It is a difficult decision, telling a family we cannot move forward to bring justice for a loved one’s death,” County Attorney Mark Ostrem said in a statement. “I believe strongly that Mr. Weiss’ decision to shoot Muhammed Rahim was unjustified. The law requires that deadly force be employed only after attempts to avoid danger have been made and there is no other option.”
Ostrem said he spoke with jurors and came to the conclusion that it was “highly unlikely” a third jury would reach a unanimous decision.
Weiss could not be reached for comment. Nor could Rahim’s family, who came to the United States in 2012 as Iraqi war refugees. They lived in Rochester at the time of the shooting but have since moved out of the state, said Ostrem.
Weiss was driving from his Rochester apartment to Cannon Falls to referee a youth basketball game on a cold January morning when he saw the car driven by Rahim miss a turn in northeast Rochester and slide into a curb. Weiss stopped his car and got out before Rahim, apparently unaware that a car had pulled in behind him, backed into Weiss’ Subaru. Rahim started to drive away and then stopped.
Rahim and one of his three passengers got out of their car to confront Weiss, with the three standing within inches of each other. According to the criminal complaint:
Weiss, who had a permit to carry a gun, told the police that after feeling threatened by Rahim’s passenger, he returned to his car to get his phone and firearm, a Glock handgun. He warned the passenger, Noah Dukart, that he was armed.
He said Rahim then approached and was a few inches from his face, threatening to fight and shoving him once in the chest. Weiss then pulled the gun out of his pocket and pointed it at the ground to show Rahim that he was armed. He told police that Rahim spat at him and told him the gun didn’t look real. Rahim’s passenger told police that Rahim said, “Do it,” before Weiss shot him.
Dukart admitted using Xanax and marijuana earlier that day, and police said Rahim may have been on drugs as well.
Weiss, an Eagle Scout and church and YMCA volunteer, had a bumper sticker on his car that said gun control means hitting your target, which was brought up in trial.
A trial ended in a hung jury in May; a second trial ended last month with the same result. Ostrem announced Monday that he was dismissing charges.
A phone call to Weiss’ defense attorney, James McGeeney, was not immediately returned.
‘Duty to retreat’ issue
In both trials, the state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Weiss did not act in self-defense. Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Avery Appelman said the meaning of self-defense isn’t fixed. “It’s like a quantum; it’s flexible,” he said. “It’s definitely not in black and white.”
The prosecution brought the case to trial twice because “they firmly believed this was murder,” said Appelman. In the end, Weiss’ statement that he feared for his life convinced some jurors that his use of deadly force was appropriate.
Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Ryan Pacyga said jurors would have had to place themselves in Weiss’ position while deliberating.
“We have to remember that these things happen in a split second. The jury may have struggled with this idea that he could have just held the gun and run for his life, but I don’t think the duty to retreat requires that,” he said.
Ostrem said both juries asked for clarifications on the state’s “duty to retreat” requirement, which, unlike states that have so-called “stand your ground” laws, says a person can use deadly force only as a last resort.
Weiss and his attorney at one point in the trial argued that he couldn’t walk away from the confrontation because it would have been illegal to leave the scene of a car crash in which his vehicle was involved, a point on which Pacyga agreed.
But Ostrem said it’s not that clear.
“We never really said he had to drive away,” said Ostrem. He could have walked far enough away to defuse the situation but stay in the area, or he could have gone back to his car and called the police, Ostrem argued. “Instead he went back to his car … and then came back out. That’s where things went wrong.”
The first jury was split 9 to 3 to acquit, and the second was either 8 to 4 or 7 to 5 to acquit, Ostrem said. In both cases, jurors took votes early in deliberations and were of the same opinion after deliberations.
Ostrem said Rahim’s family is disappointed, sad, and angry.
“They don’t feel that justice was done,” he said. “And honestly I really don’t either because we never got a decision.”