On Tuesday this week, Allen Scarsella was found guilty on all counts in the shooting of five men in North Minneapolis back in November 2015. The five men, who are black and were part of the Black Lives Matter protest encampment that sprang up in response to the police shooting of Jamar Clark, were injured, one with long-time complications.
From my remote location as a reader, I wasn't buying it. Scarsella created the situation by going there in the first place, by bringing a gun, by provoking protestors. The prosecution did a great job of making it clear he had a long history of spouting obviously racist utterances, the kinds judges, juries and lawmakers seem to require (rather than seeing racist outcomes as evidence enough). Examples: Scarsella recommended decorating a gun with a Confederate flag to "get a chimp to chimp out so you could shoot him." He invited one friend to the shooting range so they could practice for the time when they would shoot black people. He was fond of the n-word. One friend who testified in his defense said this kind of talk, often exchanged through text messages, was just "locker room talk." Yeah, right, we've heard that before.
For me, even without those clear indications of a white supremacist mindset, Scarsella should have been found guilty. Minnesota is not a stand-your-ground state. He had a duty to retreat, to call the police, and barring either of those, to at least warn people that he had a gun before shooting. He did none of those things.
But still, I doubted the jury. Reasonable doubt is a high standard.
Those 12 people saw through him, though, with the help of the prosecutors, who pointed out that the claim of seeing a knife was never raised until trial: neither Scarsella nor any of his accomplices mentioned it when they were interviewed in the previous months. The prosecutors also raised the fact that Scarsella didn't call out a warning to leave him and his friends alone or he would shoot. He just shot.
This is an interesting account, posted to Facebook by one of our local reporters Lou Raguse of KARE-11:
I had a lengthy conversation with a juror in the Allen Scarsella trial. In short, I guess the case might not have been as "close" as I thought it was in covering much of the two-week trial. The juror said most of them had their minds made up that they would vote guilty as soon as deliberations began, but about three or so made sure they took it slow, took another look at all the evidence and talked it all through before they voted. [The jury deliberated for seven hours.]So, great, Scarsella has been found guilty, and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says he will go for the maximum sentence, which is 12 to 16 years. Obviously, it's important that the sentence be in keeping with the seriousness of the crimes and the sentencing framework.
One of the biggest things that stuck with this juror was the "complete lack of remorse" Allen Scarsella showed while testifying in his own defense. This juror was surprised by how articulate and professionally Scarsella was able to present himself, especially after watching the videos and hearing some of the ugly text messages. But the jury was not impressed with his testimony as a whole, and simply didn't believe much of what he said. And a "lack of remorse" is what really stuck with this juror.
The testimony preceding Scarsella came from his friend Nate Gustavsson. He said Scarsella saved his life by shooting in self-defense. The juror told me he made a better witness for the prosecution, because that testimony only helped their case. The juror was particularly turned off, and said other jurors were as well, when Gustavsson "got a little smirk on his face and described with admiration how great of a marksman Scarsella was in firing that night."
I asked about the racial makeup of the jury, and whether the jury was cognizant of that as they worked on such a racially charged case in the current social climate. The juror said no, at least not personally, and that "there was not a racist among them." I had reported, based on what I was told by some of the attorneys and also what I could determine with my own eyes that all but two of the jurors were white. It turns out, this juror told me, that there were actually three people of color on the jury. A third woman who immigrated from Canada was of Indian heritage. Shows you just can't tell from looking at people. As it were, the juror also said the current social climate played no role in coming to a decision in this case.
Back to the evidence, did Allen Scarsella see someone pull a knife? "Absolutely not," the juror told me. He contradicted himself throughout the investigation on that claim.
After receiving texts from Gustavsson saying, "I know how to stir shit up. Talk tomorrow. Bed now," did Scarsella and he really "never talk about it again" as Scarsella claimed? A lie, the juror said. "I think they talked about it that night on their camping trip.
So what was Scarsella's big plan here? To lure black men into the shadows away from the 4th precinct's surveillance cameras so he could shoot them, as he always fantasized about? The juror told me frankly, he doesn't know what his plan was. The prosecution presented a narrative that this was a "plan." And to me listening to much of the testimony, it was hard to believe that the way the incident went down was just how Scarsella wanted it to. That's why I thought this was a tough case for the prosecution. But it seems, at least to this juror, that it didn't really matter if there was a big master plan. Just that when Scarsella pulled out his gun and shot, it was with an intent to cause serious bodily harm, and not out of self-defense, which is what it took to convict on 1st-degree assault.
It was the eye-opening racism on display in the trial that really stuck with this juror. "I can't believe the amount of hate, online and right here in Minnesota," the juror said. Did the jury believe the words were all jokes, not meant to be taken seriously? "Not for a second."
But I know sending this guy to prison is only going to make him worse. He's already a white supremacist who blames everyone but himself for his current circumstances. In prison, he'll connect with even more hard-core white supremacists, and what will he have become by the time he gets out in a dozen years?
Can anything be done to keep that from happening while he's in prison? Because if it's not interrupted, in 2029 or 2030 — if we're all still here (Donald Turmp willing and the climate change crick don't rise) — how will Allen Scarsella reintegrate into society?
Let's hope he doesn't find our culture operating on his wavelength more than it does now.