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Jury finds Theodore Edgecomb guilty of first degree reckless homicide

Posted at 9:28 AM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 23:09:09-05

MILWAUKEE — A jury has found Theodore Edgecomb guilty of 1st degree reckless homicide in the fatal shooting of immigration lawyer Jason Cleereman near Brady Street in 2020.

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Edgecomb was accused of shooting and killing Jason Cleeremanin September of 2020 near Holton and Brady Streets. He faced one count of first-degree intentional homicide, but the jury decided on reckless homicide. Edgecomb's defense argues he fired in self defense.

The Cleereman family released the following statement:

The Cleereman Family, wife Evangeline and children Amelia and Jack, thank the jury for their service and verdict, and the police and prosecutors who worked very hard to solve this case. They
continue to mourn the loss of their dear husband and father, Jason Cleereman, and ask that their privacy be respected, comforted in the knowledge that justice has been served.

Edgecomb's legal team released the following statement Wednesday night:

Today's verdict was disappointing for our team, as we have worked tirelessly to exonerate Theodore Edgecomb. We maintain that Mr. Edgecomb did in fact act in self-defense. This was a complex case, yet many concerns were raised throughout the trial that are under review and may result in an appeal.

The jury started deliberating shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday. They came back with a question around 3:30 p.m. They wanted to see the enhanced surveillance video of the shooting on the bridge. The judge allowed them to watch it once. Not long after, they alerted the judge they had reached a verdict.

Edgecomb was originally charged with first degree reckless homicide. Prosecutors increased it to first degree intentional homicide at trial. The jury thus convicted him on a lesser-included charge.

The jury was made up of 10 women and two men. The judge noted this was one of the more diverse panels he's seen, with half of the jury appearing to be people of color.

Attorneys from both sides gave closing arguments to the jury Wednesday.

Prosecutors said evidence shows Edgecomb intended to kill when he shot Jason Cleereman in the face.

"That the defendant knew when he shot the victim, it was practically certain to cause death," said Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Grant Huebner.

The shooting happened on the bridge near Holton and Brady Streets in September 2020. Investigators say an argument on the road led Edgecomb to punch Jason Cleereman while he was sitting in the passenger seat of the car. Then Edgecomb took off on his bike. The Cleeremans followed, and Jason Cleereman got out of the car and went towards Edgecomb.

Prosecutors argued Edgecomb's use of force was not necessary.

"He is confronted with a man that he punched in the face," Huebner said. "That man has no weapon. He has a gun. He withdraws it, and he shoots him in the head. He started a fist fight, and then he brought a gun to it."

In their closing arguments, defense attorneys stressed Edgecomb never intended to kill anyone that night--that he instead acted in self-defense.

"He never intentionally tried to kill anyone," said defense attorney B'Ivory LaMarr. "He only intentionally tried to stop a threat."

Defense attorneys pointed out to the jury that the state must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and they highlighted certain testimony to which they wanted the jury to pay close attention.

Defense attorneys also tried to clarify Edgecomb's testimony in which he states, "the firearm just went off," when Cleereman approached him.

"Mr. Edgecomb kept reiterating the shot went off at the time that he lunged at me," said LaMarr. "He's trying to explain to you the reasonableness of what he felt was at the time that he shot. He's not trying to imply that, oh, this was just an accident. He's only trying to discuss the time frame."

During Edgecomb's testimony on Tuesday, he said he was trying to get away on his bike after he punched Cleerman. Then Cleerman allegedly followed and approached him on the Holton Street Bridge.

"This gentlemen took one large step and lunged toward me like he was going to tackle me and I took a step back and as I stepped back and the reaction from that, the firearm just went off," Edgecomb said. "He told me I'm going to kill you now."

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Edgecomb during the verdict.

When asked if he meant to shoot Cleerman, Edgecomb replied no. He also said it was an accident Cleerman got shot.

The jury will hear instructions and closing arguments Wednesday morning before getting the case.

The state rested its case late Monday morning, and the defense began its presentation.

Theodore Edgecomb, left, and Jason Cleereman, right

The judge said he wants the trial to finish on Tuesday, so the jury may get the case soon.

One of the state's final witnesses Monday morning was Milwaukee Police Detective Rodolfo Alvarado. He testified he interviewed Evanjelina Cleereman, the wife of Jason Cleereman, on scene after the shooting.

He testified she told him she and her husband first saw Edgecomb that night when they were driving west on Brady and swerved to avoid Edgecomb, who was on his bike.

During cross examination, defense attorneys questioned the detective if he found out where specifically this encounter took place.

"At any point in this investigation, did you ask Ms. Cleereman to get inside the vehicle to take five or 10 minutes to locate the location of the first incident?" said defense attorney B'Ivory LaMarr.

"No," the detective replied.

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Milwaukee Police Detective Rodolfo Alvarado

Prosecutors then pointed out Edgecomb fled the scene.

"Did the other guy in the incident ever walk into MPD and say, I know exactly where this thing happened?" Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Grant Huebner said.

"No," the detective responded.

The defense team raised concern about this line of questioning, citing their client's right to silence.

The judge ruled the question was okay.

"Mr. LaMarr, again, tried to imply that the police officers were not doing their job," said Milwaukee County Judge David Borowski. "Had Mr. Edgecomb stayed there, he could have said this is what happened."

Once the state rested, the defense team began to call its own witnesses to testify, including several Milwaukee Police officers. Defense attorneys questioned them about the role they played in helping investigate the scene, asking who they interviewed and how they helped point out potential surveillance video.

The defense then called Stephanie Trotter to testify. She said she was driving with her family near Holton and Brady Streets when she noticed a woman in distress.

"I asked her, did you call 911, she said no," Trotter testified. "So I began to call 911. She stayed on the phone."

Cleereman testified last week she called family and friends in the moments after she witnessed the shooting.

During cross examination, prosecutors pointed out Trotter told police Cleereman was too upset to call 911.

"You basically just stated that she was too shaken to call 911, so you called for her?" Huebner said.

"I asked her if she called 911, she said no, so I called, yes," Trotter replied.

Cleereman's wife testified during the trial on Friday. Evanjelina Cleereman spent about two and a half hours on the witness stand.

Evanjelina testified she and her husband, Jason, were heading home from a bar that night. She was driving on Brady Street and said she swerved away from Edgecomb, who was on a bike.

"My husband shouted out the window, 'What the heck,'" Evanjelina said.

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Evanjelina Cleereman

She drove a short ways forward and stopped at a red light. That's when she says Edgecomb rode up to the passenger side window, where her husband was sitting, and punched her husband. Edgecomb rode away.

"Jason said, 'Just turn the corner, I want to talk to him,'" Evanjelina said.

On the Holton Street bridge, Jason got out of the car and headed towards Edgecomb. Evanjelina said she saw Edgecomb had a gun and shouted a warning to her husband.

"All I saw was this man's eyes and the gun, and then I knew he was going to shoot my husband. I could just feel it," Evanjelina said. "And then he pulled the trigger."

Edgecomb left the scene down the stairs. Evanjelina testified she ran over to her husband. She said she put her hand on his back and took his wallet out of his back pocket.

"I wanted something to hold onto," Evanjelina said. "I couldn't hold him, so I wanted to hold his wallet."

On cross examination, defense attorneys pointed out Edgecomb rode away on his bike after the punch.

"Mr. Edgecomb never made a threat to you, did he?" asked defense attorney B'Ivory LaMarr.

"No," Evanjelina replied.

Defense attorneys questioned Evanjelina why she didn't call 911 after her husband was punched.

"Everything happened so quickly," Evanjelina responded. "I was that time when I'm thinking all this and I'm trying to drive, my husband says, 'can you turn the corner, I want to talk to him.' And so I trusted my husband."

Prosecutors indicated Friday afternoon they plan to call four to five witnesses on Monday.

Then the defense team will present its case. They plan to call Edgecomb to the witness stand, who they say plans to claim self-defense.

On Friday afternoon, one woman on the jury panel was dismissed for a family emergency. Now 13 people — 12 plus one alternate — are hearing the case.

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