Prosecutors say Elijah McClain was just walking home as jury urged to convict officers in his death

by Gabriel Martinez

The prosecution in the trial of two Colorado police officers, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt, charged in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, made impassioned closing arguments on Tuesday. They urged the jury to keep in mind that Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, was merely attempting to walk home on the fateful night when he was subjected to a neck hold and pinned down by the officers before paramedics administered a potent sedative.

In response, the defense asserted that the officers, from a Denver suburb, had no alternative but to use force to subdue McClain after he resisted their attempts to restrain him.

Now, the fate of Roedema and Rosenblatt rests with twelve jurors, who will determine whether they are guilty of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and second-degree assault, all of which are felonies. An assault conviction carries a significant penalty of up to 16 years in prison.

Prosecutor Duane Lyons emphasized the significance of Elijah McClain’s identity, reminding the jury of McClain’s own words captured on police body camera footage: “His name was Elijah McClain. He was going home.” Lyons also displayed a photo of a smiling McClain in court to underscore his humanity.

Donald Sisson, Roedema’s defense attorney, urged the jurors to set aside emotional appeals from the prosecution and instead focus on the potential dangers faced by the officers in the situation. Sisson explained that the officers repeatedly instructed McClain to stop resisting, emphasizing the need for a rapid response after Roedema shouted that McClain had reached for another officer’s gun during the confrontation.

McClain’s encounter with the police occurred as he was walking home from a convenience store on August 24, 2019, listening to music and wearing a mask covering most of his face. A 911 call had reported him as suspicious, leading to a physical confrontation with the police. Despite McClain not being armed and not having been accused of any crime, the situation escalated.

Prosecution witnesses asserted that the sedative ketamine caused McClain’s death, but they also stated that the officers’ restraint triggered a series of health issues, making it difficult for McClain to breathe and rendering him more susceptible to a fatal overdose.

The defense characterized McClain’s death as a tragedy and did not call any witnesses during the trial, relying instead on their cross-examination of prosecution witnesses to argue the officers’ innocence.

Rosenblatt’s attorney, Harvey Steinberg, argued that his client was a scapegoat and that McClain’s death resulted from the ketamine administered by paramedics, not the officers’ actions. Steinberg pointed out that Rosenblatt was not even in close proximity when these events unfolded.

However, prosecutor Lyons contended that the officers failed to de-escalate the situation, ignored McClain’s evident distress, and selectively turned off some of their body-worn cameras during parts of the encounter. He asserted that to categorize this incident as merely a tragedy would trivialize the gravity of what transpired, insisting that the defendants were indeed guilty of crimes.

During these arguments, McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, sat in the front row of the courtroom, bearing witness to the prosecution’s case.

The trial of Officer Nathan Woodyard, who was the first to stop McClain and is also charged in the case, is set to begin shortly. The encounter with McClain escalated rapidly, with the officers taking him to the ground and applying a neck hold, which temporarily rendered him unconscious. The officers later justified their actions by claiming that McClain had attempted to grab one of their guns, a statement heard on body camera footage.

Two paramedics, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, also face charges in McClain’s death and are scheduled to go to trial in November.

In 2019, the local district attorney declined to pursue criminal charges, but the case was re-examined in 2020 after Governor Jared Polis requested an investigation by the state Attorney General Philip Weiser in response to protests against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Roedema and Woodyard are currently suspended without pay, while Rosenblatt, the only officer fired in connection with the incident, lost his job not for the fatal encounter itself but for making light of other officers’ reenactment of the neck hold.

(Source: This is a paraphrased and extended summary of the original article by Colleen Slevin and Amy Beth Hanson, published on October 10, 2023, and credited to the Associated Press.)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Trial

What is the background of the Elijah McClain case?

Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, was stopped by Colorado police officers while walking home from a convenience store in August 2019. The encounter escalated, leading to his death.

What charges are the officers facing?

Officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt are facing charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and second-degree assault, all of which are felonies.

What is the potential penalty if the officers are convicted?

If convicted of assault, the most serious charge, the officers could face up to 16 years in prison.

What arguments did the prosecution present during closing arguments?

The prosecution argued that Elijah McClain was simply trying to go home and emphasized the officers’ failure to de-escalate the situation, ignored McClain’s distress, and selective use of body-worn cameras.

What was the defense’s stance during closing arguments?

The defense asserted that the officers had no choice but to subdue McClain after he resisted and highlighted the potential dangers faced by the officers.

What role did ketamine play in McClain’s death?

Prosecution witnesses claimed that ketamine administered by paramedics contributed to McClain’s death, but they also noted that the officers’ restraint triggered health issues.

What’s the status of Officer Nathan Woodyard’s trial?

Officer Nathan Woodyard, involved in the McClain case, is set to go to trial shortly.

Why did the case get re-examined in 2020?

Following protests against police brutality after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, Governor Jared Polis requested the state Attorney General Philip Weiser to investigate the case, leading to its re-examination.

What happened to the officers involved in the incident?

Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard are currently suspended without pay. Jason Rosenblatt was the only officer fired, not for the fatal encounter itself but for inappropriate behavior related to reenacting the neck hold.

More about Trial

  • [Original Article on the Elijah McClain Trial](Link to the original article)
  • [Elijah McClain Case Background](Link to background information on the case)
  • [Charges Against Officers](Link to details on the charges faced by the officers)
  • [Penalties for Conviction](Link explaining potential penalties if officers are convicted)
  • [Prosecution’s Closing Arguments](Link to details of the prosecution’s closing arguments)
  • [Defense’s Closing Arguments](Link to details of the defense’s closing arguments)
  • [Role of Ketamine](Link to information on the role of ketamine in McClain’s death)
  • [Status of Officer Nathan Woodyard’s Trial](Link to updates on Woodyard’s trial)
  • [Re-examination of the Case](Link to information on why the case was re-examined in 2020)
  • [Status of Officers Involved](Link to the status of officers involved in the incident)

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Activist2023 October 13, 2023 - 1:32 am

Re-examination happened due to protests, shows the power of people speaking up. Justice is important!

Reader123 October 13, 2023 - 2:43 am

Mcclain’s death is so sad. Prosecution says he was just walking home, and cops went too far. Defense says they had no choice. Hard case.

NewsJunkie October 13, 2023 - 9:07 am

Can’t believe Rosenblatt got fired for inappropriate behavior, not the death itself. Interesting detail.

JusticeSeeker October 13, 2023 - 11:12 am

It’s troubling that officers turned off cameras. We need transparency in cases like this.

LegalEagle October 13, 2023 - 8:12 pm

The charges are serious, manslaughter, and assault. If they’re guilty, they should face consequences.


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