In a week full of unusual twists and turns, it seemed logical that the start of the fifth day of Rakayo Vinson’s homicide trial would have another.
Just a day after he fired his attorney and refused to participate in proceedings before Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce E. Schroeder, Vinson returned Friday morning, along with his attorney, Donald Bielski, to the defense table. .
Schroeder, who asked courtroom deputies to remove Vinson after several disruptions on Thursday, told the defendant, charged with a triple homicide at the Somers House tavern on April 18, that there would be no more problems in the future.
“I want you to understand that if we go down the wrong path again and you talk irrelevant, I’ll kick you out again, and you’re unlikely to get a second chance to come back,” Schroeder said. “You understand?”
Vinson, with a seemingly completely different approach to the proceedings, responded quickly.
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“Fair enough,” Schroeder said.
Bielski told the judge he wanted to cross-examine three witnesses who testified Thursday – Joseph Hurley, who works at Somers House; Tommy Gochis, owner/operator of Somers House; and Nadine Nycz, a friend of one of the victims, Cédric Gaston, who was there that night.
After a long delay while attempts were made to reach the three, Hurley appeared in person, while Gochis was cross-examined via Zoom. Nycz was unreachable on Friday.
Vinson, 25, of Kenosha, who is charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting deaths of Gaston, Atkeem Stevenson and Kevin Donaldson, as well as three counts of attempted intentional homicide in the first degree for shooting three others, was expected to testify in his own defense later Friday.
Due to the unusual circumstances to start the day, Schroeder told the jury the case might not be in their hands until Tuesday. There will be no hearing on Monday due to Martin Luther King’s birthday.
Two friends of Gaston and Stevenson, who were with the two victims at the time of the shooting, testified Thursday with emotion and in tears of these moments.
Nadine Nycz and Kayla Waring, who came to Somers House with Gaston and Stevenson, said they went to get Waring’s car when they heard gunshots ring out.
Nycz said that while waiting for the two men to exit, she heard six to seven gunshots from the back of the bar.
“The last thing I remember is seeing Cedric walk out,” she said. “We sat with him until the cops arrived. …I was on the phone with 911 trying to hold his head up. I went for a pulse and felt nothing .”
Waring, who said she had known Gaston since eighth grade, testified that she saw her fatally injured friend leave the bar.
“He had been shot and he was covered in his blood,” she said. “He collapsed and fell into the bushes.”
Both also testified to seeing the accused in the parking lot across the street.
“He waved his gun and said, ‘Who wants it next? ‘” Waring said.
The judge changes course
After a break in testimony on Thursday, deputies dismissed Chanda Sonheim, 47, of Racine, who earlier in the day had been removed from the courtroom for allegedly filming the jury and attempting to post the video on Facebook , to answer Schroeder’s questions.
Sonheim, who was in custody after being taken to jail, was originally sentenced to 10 days for contempt of court. Graveley asked the judge to reconsider the sentence.
“She had been a calming influence on many people in the audience,” Graveley said. “They go through a lot. I think she was directly helpful. I wanted the court to be sure you knew that.”
Sonheim, who told the judge she was Gaston’s aunt, made another apology in court.
“I apologize,” she said. “At no time did I intend to disrespect your court.”
Schroeder told Sonheim that he understands emotions can run high in cases like these, but added that he could not allow any type of disturbance inside the courtroom.
“We cannot have any type of disruptive and violent behavior,” he said. “The jury is supposed to decide the case based on the facts alone. While I certainly understand people have strong feelings, they need to be put down. This is a place where you’re supposed to have solemn respect for the process. .”
Deputies checked the woman’s phone, and it appeared a video was ready for release that may have included jury footage, which Schroeder said is a huge safety concern for those people.
“This business of taking video of a jury is an extremely serious violation,” he said. “This is a serious matter, and it must be dealt with severely.”
Ultimately, Schroeder said he “hesitantly accepted” Graveley’s suggestion and changed Sonheim’s sentence to time served for the hours she was in custody, fined her $250 and ordered not to return to the courtroom for the remainder of the trial.