In a week full of unusual twists and turns, it only seemed to make sense that the start of the fifth day of the homicide trial of Rakayo Vinson would have another.
Just a day after he fired his attorney and refused to participate in the proceedings before Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce E. Schroeder, Vinson returned Friday morning, with his counsel, Donald Bielski, at the defense table.
Schroeder, who had courtroom deputies remove Vinson after several disruptions on Thursday, told the defendant, charged with a triple homicide at the Somers House tavern on April 18, there would be no more issues moving forward.
“I want you to understand if we go on the bad route again, and you’re talking out of turn, I’ll put you out again, and it’s unlikely you would get a second opportunity to come back,” Schroeder said. “You understand?”
Vinson, with a seemingly completely different approach to the proceedings, responded quickly.
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“I understand,” he said.
“Fair enough,” Schroeder said.
Bielski told the judge that he wanted to cross-examine three witnesses who testified Thursday — Joseph Hurley, who works at the Somers House; Tommy Gochis, owner/operator of the Somers House; and Nadine Nycz, a friend of one of the victim’s, Cedric Gaston, who was there that night.
After a lengthy delay while attempts were made to reach all three, Hurley appeared in person, while Gochis was cross-examined via Zoom. Nycz could not be reached 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, along with three felony counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide for shooting three others, took the stand to testify in his own defense later Friday. Details of the testimony were not available in time for the Kenosha News’ press time. (See kenoshanews.com for an update).
Because of the unusual circumstances to start the day, Schroeder told the jury the case may not be in their hands until Tuesday. There will be no court in session Monday because of the Martin Luther King Holiday.
Two friends of Gaston and Stevenson, who were with both victims at the time of the shooting, gave emotional, tearful testimony Thursday about those moments.
Nadine Nycz and Kayla Waring, who came to the Somers House with Gaston and Stevenson, said they had gone to get Waring’s car to leave when they heard gunshots ring out.
Nycz said while they waited for both men to come out, she heard six to seven gunshots from the back of the bar.
“The last thing I remember is seeing Cedric come outside,” she said. “We sat with him until the cops came. ... I was on the phone with 911 as I’m trying to hold his head up. I went to feel for a pulse, and I didn’t feel anything.”
Waring, who said she had known Gaston since the eighth grade, testified she saw her friend, mortally wounded, 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 they saw the defendant in the parking lot across the street.
“He waved his gun around and said, ‘Who wants some next?’” Waring said.
Judge changes course
After a break in testimony Thursday, deputies returned 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 questions from Schroeder.
Sonheim, who was in custody after she had been booked into the jail, originally had been sentenced to 10 days for contempt of court. Graveley asked the judge to reconsider the sentence.
“She had been a calming influence on many of the people in the audience,” Graveley said. “They’re going through a lot. I believe she’s been directly helpful. I wanted the court to be sure you knew that.”
Sonheim, who told the judge she’s Gaston’s aunt, offered another apology to the court.
“I apologize,” she said. “At no time did I ever intend to disrespect your court.”
Schroeder told Sonheim he understands that emotions can run high in cases like these, but added that he cannot allow any type of disruptions inside the courtroom.
“We can’t have any kind of disruptive, violent behavior,” he said. “The jury is supposed to decide the case solely on the facts. While I certainly understand people have strong feelings, they have to be suppressed. 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 prepared to be posted that may have included images of the jury, which Schroeder said is a huge safety concern for those people.
“This business of taking a video of a jury is an extremely serious violation,” he said. “This is a serious matter, and that has to be dealt with sternly.”
In the end, 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 her not to return to the courtroom for the remainder of the trial.