A 24-year-old Carver County man said he feared for his life when he shot and killed an unarmed driver in St. Paul Friday night following a minor collision and dispute on the highway, charges say.
Anthony J. Trifiletti, of Watertown, Minn., was charged in Ramsey County District Court on Monday with second-degree murder in the death of Douglas C. Lewis, 39, of St. Paul. He remains jailed in lieu of $1 million bail.
Trifiletti later told police that Lewis appeared to be reaching toward his waistband as he advanced toward Trifiletti, who'd grabbed a handgun from his glove box and fired several shots, striking Lewis four times. The man has a legal permit to carry, a law enforcement source confirmed.
According to the criminal complaint:
Officers responded to the area of Hwy. 61 and Burns Avenue on St. Paul's East Side just before 9:30 p.m. on a report of a shooting. Upon arrival, they found bystanders hunched over a wounded man in the street providing aid. No weapons were found on him.
Paramedics transported the victim to Regions Hospital, where he died a short time later in surgery.
In an interview with investigators, Trifiletti said that a driver in silver Ford bumped his pickup truck from behind, so both motorists pulled off onto Burns Avenue. He took photos of the damage and requested Lewis' insurance information. But things quickly escalated into shouting, so Trifiletti told friends who were in another truck behind him to leave.
Trifiletti and a friend both claimed they heard Lewis say "I'm GD," an apparent reference to membership in a gang. The men both walked back to their respective vehicles and began to pull away. Trifiletti "unintentionally" followed Lewis, who threw his car in park and got out. When Lewis advanced toward him and allegedly reached under his shirt, Trifiletti drew his weapon and fired four times from roughly 10 feet away, charges say. He later told police that he "thought he was going to die and was afraid for his life," according to court records.
But a young couple who witnessed the men never reported hearing a reference to "GD" and said Lewis did not appear to have a weapon in his hands. They provided first aid to Lewis as Trifiletti fled the scene in his pickup. He returned minutes later and surrendered to police after his father advised him to over the phone.
Detectives asked Trifiletti if he could have avoided the shooting by simply driving away or refusing to get out of his truck. Trifiletti responded that he "didn't think that was an option" because a car prevented him from backing out and Lewis was already so close.
Trifiletti's criminal history includes a DWI conviction, but no violent offenses. An attorney is not listed for him in court records.
Lewis' sister believes Trifiletti perceived Lewis as a threat because of his race and is now claiming self-defense as an excuse.
"White people can get away with killing a black man by saying they were afraid," Valerie Lewis said. "He has brought great pain to my family."
Lewis' family and friends told the Star Tribune they can't comprehend how the shooting could be characterized as self-defense. The father of four was described as a hardworking family man who was not aggressive.
"It didn't have to end that way," longtime friend Tawanda Johnson said at his Sunday afternoon memorial. "He didn't deserve that."
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648