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Day 4 | Somers House homicide trial

More drama in Day 4 of Somers House triple homicide trial; Vinson removed from courtroom

Another day came with the same demands by the man charged with a triple homicide at the Somers House last April.

Three people were killed and two were left wounded early Sunday in a shooting at Somers House Tavern in the village of Somers in Kenosha County, authorities said. Kenosha Sheriff David Beth said the suspect was still at large later Sunday morning, but that he believed the public is not in danger.

Only this time the day’s proceedings went forward without defendant Rakayo Vinson in court.

Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce E. Schroeder ordered deputies to remove Vinson from the courtroom after another series of interruptions as the fourth day of his trial was about to begin Thursday morning at the Kenosha County Courthouse.

Vinson, 25, of Kenosha, who faces three felony counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting deaths of Cedric Gaston, Atkeem Stevenson and Kevin Donaldson, along with three counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, renewed his demands that his Kenosha-based attorney, Donald Bielski, be replaced with a new lawyer.

“I no longer want him to represent me,” Vinson said. “I told him I will not proceed with him, and he’s no longer my attorney, and he shouldn’t be present (in court).”

Vinson claims that he has been denied material evidence and interrogation footage from an interview after his arrest on the morning of the shooting. Bielski, in response to a question from Schroeder, told the judge that a copy of that footage, along with the 147-page transcript, were both given to his client.

The second half of the interrogation was suppressed in a motion hearing because Vinson at that point asked for a lawyer.

Schroeder again told Vinson, who faces a mandatory life sentence on each count if he’s convicted, that he had two choices — to retain Bielski or represent himself — but he would not agree to a new attorney at this stage of the game.

“You have not given me sufficient reason to justify my removal of Mr. Bielski to withdraw, particularly mid-trial,” Schroeder said.

The back-and-forth continued without the jury present, but regained steam shortly after the state’s first witness of the day, Mark Kuzycz, a surgeon with Aurora Health Care, took the stand.

After a photograph was admitted into evidence, Schroeder looked to the defense table to acknowledge its receipt, and not knowing what Vinson’s plans were for his attorney, the defendant again told the judge Bielski was no longer representing him.

“He’s fired,” Vinson said. “I need a new attorney. I’m not representing myself. I will not continue this trial here today.”

After the jury was sent from the room, Schroeder then ordered deputies to remove the defendant and take him back to the Kenosha County Jail. Because the jury was in the back of the chambers, deputies escorted Vinson through the front door and past several of the victims’ family members and friends, which set off a brief outburst.

Once Vinson was back in the jail, an attempt to set up a Zoom video link to the courtroom was made. But after a lengthy delay, and once the link was established, the defendant disconnected the call.

The remainder of the morning’s proceedings were held with Bielski, now as a standby attorney only there to offer legal advice to Vinson if asked, at the defense table. As each of the state’s witnesses that followed concluded their testimony, Schroeder stated that Vinson still had refused to participate via video.

Should Vinson decide to again have Bielski as his attorney or show that he will not disrupt the proceedings any further, he would be allowed to return, Schroeder said.

Witnesses testify

Two of the men wounded in the April 18 shooting, Justin Haymond and Kevin Sarratos, who arrived at the tavern, 1548 Sheridan Road, with other friends from Lake Geneva, both detailed what happened in the immediate moments before and after shots rang out.

Haymond, who suffered a gunshot wound to his left elbow, said he heard the first initial gunshots go off from the patio area, then saw Vinson with his gun pointed toward his group.

“I ducked to cover and try to get out of the way, and that’s when I got hit in the arm,” Haymond said.

Haymond said his wound required surgery and kept him out of work for three weeks. He said he still feels some physical effects from the injury as well.

Sarratos, who was shot in the upper abdomen, was a few feet further away from Vinson when he was shot, he testified. As a result, he lost a portion of his small intestine, his stomach ruptured, and the bullet was just 2 centimeters from both his lungs and spine.

After the first shots rang out, Sarratos said he went to help Haymond.

“When he went down, I tried to help him, but I felt something, looked down, and I was shot,” he said.

To date, Serratos has had four surgeries and spent five weeks in the hospital. He had been employed on a probationary basis as a firefighter in Wonder Lake, Ill., but as a result of his injury, that career path is no longer an option.

Also testifying Thursday morning were Tommy Gochis, owner/operator of The Somers House, and Marisa Henke, who was in the same group of friends as Gaston and Stevenson that night.

The state was expected to conclude its case Thursday afternoon, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said.

Woman cited for contempt

Before Sarratos took the stand, Schroeder ordered a woman to be taken from the courtroom after he spotted her allegedly pointing her phone in the direction of the jury.

The woman was then brought back into the courtroom. Deputies who took her phone told the judge she had been attempting to livestream the proceedings on Facebook, which is not allowed.

Schroeder found the woman in contempt and ordered her to serve a day in jail and fined her $250. She was led from the courtroom by deputies, and her phone was held as evidence.

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