KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — A lawyer for a man charged with killing three people and wounding three others in an April shooting at a crowded bar in Wisconsin said Tuesday that his client wasn’t the one looking for trouble.
Rakayo Vinson, 25, is accused in the deaths of 24-year-old Cedric Gaston; 26-year-old Atkeem Stevenson; and 22-year-old Kevin Donaldson, all of Kenosha. A criminal complaint said surveillance video shows Vinson walking to the patio of the Somers House Tavern in the village of Somers and opening fire before fleeing.
Vinson’s attorney, Donald Bielski, told the jury during opening statements that he plans to play a 25-minute video showing that the three victims were the ones seeking conflict, the Kenosha News reported.
“They’ve already been kicked out (of the bar) … yet, they’re coming back. … What do the three men have in common? They all confronted and fought Mr. Vinson,” Bielski said.
Bielski said his client had the firearm in his possession during the night but didn’t use it, even when he was in a physical altercation with all three victims. Bielski said Vinson eventually feared for his safety.
Prosecutor Michael Graveley was the first to speak Tuesday and he said there’s no dispute that Donaldson and Vinson threw punches at each other after some sort of conflict. Vinson was taken to the bathroom by the bar owner to tend to his bloody nose and calm him down.
“So this could just be a bloody nose at a bar in Kenosha that happens a couple times a year,” Graveley said. “It could have just been that.”
At one point, Gaston and Stevenson approached Vinson, who began to fire his weapon, Graveley said. Donaldson was shot after he and Vinson exchanged gunfire across the street. Justin Haymond, Jordan Momani and Kevin Serratos were wounded by Vinson but survived, the complaint said.
Everything, including DNA evidence, a wallet found after Vinson jumped two fences to flee, and his cellphone points to Vinson’s guilt, Graveley said.
Vinson, like he did during Monday’s jury selection, demanded a new attorney at the start of Tuesday’s proceedings. Judge Bruce Schroeder told Vinson he would “scrutinize this carefully” before bringing in the jury for opening statements.
Later, during Bielski’s comments, Schroeder removed the jury after an outburst by Tanisha Gaston, sister of Cedric Gaston. Schroeder told Gaston he was sympathetic to her emotions but couldn’t tolerate such displays during trial. Gaston apologized and was fined $250 for contempt.
Somers is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Milwaukee, not far from the Illinois-Wisconsin border.