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‘A Very Viable Claim’: Experts Weigh In Ahead of Jury Trial for Black Man Claiming Self-Defense After Killing Prominent White Attorney

Theodore Edgecomb, 31, is just days away from learning if he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison or if his self-defense claim will set him free after killing Milwaukee immigration attorney Jason Cleereman.

According to police, in September 2020 Edgecomb was riding his bicycle through oncoming traffic on a Milwaukee street, causing Jason Cleereman’s wife, who was driving their vehicle, to swerve.

Edgecomb’s lawyers say soon after that initial encounter the Cleeremans and Edgecomb exchanged words at a stoplight and Jason called Edgecomb the n-word, with Edgecomb responding by punching the attorney in the face before riding away.

Surveillance captured the final moments as Edgecomb turns a corner with the Cleeremans following him. Edgecomb veered onto the sidewalk meanwhile, Jason Cleereman got out of his vehicle and approached Edgecomb, that’s when he was fatally shot at point blank range in the head.

Court documents say Cleereman had a folding knife in his pocket at the time of the shooting and he was under the influence of marijuana and alcohol.

Edgecomb fled the scene and left town and was arrested in Kentucky six months later. He also faces bail jumping charges.

Edgecomb’s defense team says a former Milwaukee homicide investigator is expected to provide expert testimony on police tactics used during the investigation.

Legal experts say Edgecomb’s case raises questions if a Black person’s race influences a self-defense claim.

“The self-defense claim is a very viable claim based on my understanding of Wisconsin law, however that’s taking race out of the equation; clearly if an African American had accosted a white man and the white man defended himself, I don’t believe the white man would have been arrested,” said Carlos Moore, who’s the President of the National Bar Association and Mississippi municipal judge.

At a preliminary hearing on January 10, 2022, Edgecomb’s charge was upgraded by prosecutors from first degree reckless homicide to intentional homicide. “The defendant took a gun and shot a person at close range whether or not that is intentional or reckless, first or second is something the jury can consider,” prosecutor Grant Huebner said during the hearing.

Edgecomb’s attorney, Aneeq Ahmad, rebutted, saying, “we are not alleging that he intended to kill him, he intended to act in self-defense and intended to shoot those are two different things…Now Mr. Edgecomb is going to face a first-degree intentional homicide charge that carries a mandatory life sentence if he’s convicted, and it just ups the stakes,” he said.

Judge David Borowski highlighted to key question in Edgecomb’s case, “the dispute is homicide in the first degree intentional, first degree reckless or otherwise was it self-defense.”

Edgecomb’s self-defense case has drawn comparisons to another high-profile Wisconsin self-defense case involving Kyle Rittenhouse who was acquitted in November after killing two men and wounding another. Attorney Kimberley Motley represents two of Rittenhouse’s gunshot victims and says the number of shots fired illuminates the big difference between Rittenhouse and Edgecomb’s case.

“He shot at him one time and I think that is significant, he didn’t have multiple shots at him, to me that’s a clear sign that veers more towards he was actually trying to defend his life, he wasn’t trying to clear his clip on him,” Motley said.

Some community activists have since called for Judge Borowski to recuse himself claiming he has a bias. Edgecomb’s jury trial is scheduled for January 18.

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