Jury begins deliberations in hate crime acid attack trial of Clifton Blackwell

NOW: Jury begins deliberations in hate crime acid attack trial of Clifton Blackwell

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A jury is now deliberating in the trial of a man charged with a hate crime for throwing acid at a Latino man in 2019.

Sixty-four-year-old Clifton Blackwell is charged with first degree reckless injury -- use of a dangerous weapon as a hate crime for throwing acid at Mahud Villalaz after the two had an argument over parking. Villalaz is a U.S. citizen from Peru and says Blackwell insinuated he was an illegal immigrant during their argument. Blackwell claimed he was in fear for his safety and self-defense was the reason he threw acid at Villalaz.

Before deliberations began, Judge Jean Kies ruled the jury could consider a lesser charge of second-degree reckless injury if they did not find Blackwell guilty of the greater charge of first-degree reckless injury. The could also consider Blackwell's claim of self-defense as well as possible provocation or retreat on his part.

After two days of seeing evidence and hearing testimony, the jury heard closing arguments from the defense and state.

"Throwing acid in someone's face is utter disregard for human life," Assistant District Attorney Jessica Bellows told jurors. "With the potential that they were going to ingest this corrosive chemical, is utter disregard for human life."

Blackwell's lawyer urged jurors to view the case as an incident of self-defense.

"Mr. Blackwell had every reason to believe he was going to be attacked and he had one thing and one thing alone to prevent that from happening," Attorney Michael Plaisted said, referring to the acid Blackwell had in his possession.

Along with the degree of reckless injury, the jury is tasked with finding if the incident was also a hate crime. The defense claimed race, ethnicity or national origin did not play a factor in what happened.

"[Blackwell] didn't choose Villalaz in this case, Villalaz chose him to argue with, to grow increasingly agitated with and to ultimately try to throw a punch at him," Plaisted said.

But the state said Blackwell's words during the argument implying Villalaz was not a U.S. citizen played a factor in charging Blackwell with a hate crime.

"That's the hate crime, ladies and gentleman, based on his accent and the color of his skin as they were talking, that's selecting him based on his national origin," Bellows said.

Jurors deliberated for a little less than two hours Wednesday. Judge Kies sent them home for the day around 5 p.m. They will continue Thursday morning.

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