Eliyahu Werdesheim avoided a prison sentence Wednesday for the 2010 attack of a black teenager in Northwest Baltimore, in a case that heightened community divides.
Werdesheim, a former member of an Orthodox Jewish citizens' watch group, was sentenced to three years' probation by Baltimore Circuit Judge Pamela J. White for second-degree assault and false imprisonment.
Werdesheim, now 24, had faced up to 10 years in prison for the Nov. 19, 2010 assault on Corey Ausby, who was then 15 years old.
Much of the two-hour hearing was devoted to remarks by nine Werdesheim supporters, including Baltimore business leaders, a rabbi and one of his college professors. The supporters described Werdesheim as an upstanding member of the community who is poised to do great things.
Werdesheim, who celebrated his one-year anniversary with his wife on Tuesday, has no criminal history. He is studying pre-law and business at the Johns Hopkins University.
The Rev. Cortly C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the two-hour sentencing hearing put "power, influence and classism" on display.
"I saw a litany of prestigious people come in and paint a picture of a saint," Witherspoon said. "I can't speak to [Werdesheim's] character prior to this happening; all I know is he was facing these very serious charges."
Werdesheim should have been jailed, Witherspoon said after the hearing concluded. Witherspoon was escorted out of the courthouse after shouting "racist" and "disgusting" at Werdesheim's attorney, Andrew L. Alperstein.
Witherspoon's comments came after remarks by the attorney that community members who tried to assign racial undertones to the 2010 attack were opportunists looking to advance their own reputations rather than pursue the justice.
"We're better than this," Alperstein said. "We're all better than this."
In addition to the probation, White ordered Werdesheim to research and write essays about Baltimore's diversity and the differences and similarities within the city's communities. She told Werdesheim that she would consider striking his convictions after 18 months but refused to grant him a retrial.
"There is nothing served or gained with incarceration," White said.
Werdesheim was sentenced to three years' probation each for his conviction on false imprisonment and second degree-assault charges, to run concurrently.
On Nov. 19, 2010, Werdesheim and his brother, Avi Werdesheim, were headed home around noon when they responded to a call about a suspicious person in Park Heights. The brothers, part of the citizens' watch group Shomrim, followed Ausby was he walked along Fallstaff Road. Ausby, who the judge said was frightened, pulled a nail-studded board from a construction site.
Eliyahu Werdesheim eventually confronted Ausby and hit him in the head with a walkie-talkie and, along with others, held him down for eight to 10 minutes.
Avi Werdesheim was cleared of all charges.
Ausby's attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, told the judge that the victim's family wanted Eliyahu Werdesheim to serve jail time.
Still, Gordon later said he was satisfied with the sentence.
"It's a misdemeanor case," Gordon said. "The sentence was probably a bit harsher than the ordinary second-degree assault case. The fact that he's got to enlighten himself on the issues of cultural diversity — I think it's going to benefit him and bode well for him in the future."
State prosecutors recommended that Werdesheim be ordered to three years' probation, anger management courses and 100 hours of community service. State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said in a statement that the outcome was just.
Werdesheim's lawyer focused his remarks to the judge on consequences his client had suffered as a result of the case, such as regret, sorrow, sleepless nights and loss of business for a security agency that Werdesheim started.
Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of the Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore said the sentence was fair.
"A mistake was made, but not on the basis of race," Wohlberg said. "I know Eli. There's not a racist bone in his body.