Defense Attorney Earl Gray Says Black Foreman is ‘Racist’ After Guilty Verdict, Judge Grants New Hearing

Saint Paul, MN — In a motion hearing seeking a new trial for convicted murderer Brian Kjellberg, defense attorney Earl Gray called the Black foreman of the jury “racist” and was granted a Schwartz hearing by Ramsey County Judge Leonardo Castro. In late March, Kjellberg was found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder without intent for killing Arnell ‘AJ’ Stewart outside Kjellberg’s home in December 2021. Kjellberg’s sentencing, which was scheduled for May 17, has been been delayed and yet to be rescheduled with the Schwartz hearing now taking its place.

[Update: Judge Castro denied both motions in the May 17 hearing and scheduled sentencing for May 31. Read more here: Judge Rejects White Vigilante’s Defense Motions Against Black Foreman, Sets Sentencing Date]

During the May 2 motion hearing, Gray stated that the jury foreman “is against white people who kill Black people, even if it was legitimate like this one.” He said the jury deliberation was too fast to find Kjellberg guilty, and that they couldn’t believe it happened without the foreman pressuring the jury. After the verdict, Kjellberg’s defense team combed through the foreman’s Facebook page and filed for a Schwartz hearing stating they found evidence of “hatred” in posts denouncing white vigilante murders like the killers of Ahmaud Arbery and police killings of Black people. A Schwartz hearing is held to determine if misconduct occurred in the jury room.

“I’m a well-hated person to people like him … How can a man like this lead the jury?” asked Gray, who’s defended high-profile killer cops, to Judge Castro. Gray said that the foreman “stared [him] down” during the closing arguments with looks “full of hatred.” Gray, who’s practiced law since 1970, has defended police in three high profile murder cases in the past six years including: Kim Potter who killed Daunte Wright, Jeronimo Yanez who killed Philando Castile, and Thomas Lane who was party to the murder of George Floyd.

Earl Gray questioning a potential juror during the Kim Potter trial on December 2, 2021.

While arguing for the Schwartz hearing, Gray said to the judge that he didn’t strike the foreman from the jury when he had the chance because he was a “minority.”

Gray’s consistent framing of “reverse racism” in the hearing by calling a Black juror “racist” and viewing the juror’s postings of life experiences as a Black man as postings of “hatred,” fall in direct line with past complaints of racism filed against Gray himself.

In 2017, President of Communities United Against Police Brutality, Michelle Gross, filed a formal complaint against Gray for a pattern of racist conduct during the Yanez trial (pdf). Gross stated Gray engaged in “ethnic profiling, harassment and abrasive conduct toward an 18-year-old Ethiopian female potential juror.” Furthermore, Gross noted they were concerned with Gray’s “conduct toward witness Diamond Reynolds, against whom he cast a number of racist innuendoes and harassing comments.” Gray faced no consequences.

Earl Gray is now weaponizing public posts where the foreman in question mentions being on the receiving end of racial harm and the impacts of racism in attempts to alter the guilty verdict of the trial.

At least two jurors are expected to show up to the Schwartz hearing on May 17 to answer if they were coerced by the foreman during deliberations. Three jurors were subpoenaed but one had a recent ankle surgery, according to court records.

Defense attorney Earl Gray appears over a court hearing on Zoom in 2022 with convicted murderer Brian Kjellberg.

Aside from the initial press conference featuring Stewart’s family, there has been little-to-no coverage of the case and ensuing trial by legacy media outlets — Unicorn Riot has published several videos and articles on the matter.
Family Calls for Hate Crimes Charge in Killing of AJ Stewart [March 29, 2022]
Family of AJ Stewart Speak on Patterns of White Supremacy That Led to His Killing Over a Parking Spot [Feb. 15, 2023]
Guilty Verdict in Saint Paul Murder Trial of White Vigilante Not Enough, Says Victim’s Family [May 1, 2023]
Defense Attorney Earl Gray Says Black Foreman is ‘Racist’ After Guilty Verdict, Judge Grants New Hearing [May 16, 2023]
Judge Rejects White Vigilante’s Defense Motions Against Black Foreman, Sets Sentencing Date [May 23, 2023]

AJ Stewart parked his vehicle outside Kjellberg’s residence, a converted firehouse in East St. Paul, on Dec. 2, 2021. According to prosecutors, Kjellberg, a 50-year-old white veteran and property owner, then blocked Stewart, a 27-year-old Black man, from entering his car and leaving the parking spot. A brief struggle ensued and Kjellberg stabbed Stewart in the heart with a homemade shank.

After the killing, Kjellberg hired Earl Gray to represent him in the matter and claimed self-defense. After several delays, Kjellberg’s trial started in late March and lasted only four days. The jury found him guilty in less than two hours of deliberation. Kjellberg faces up to 40 years in prison if the conviction holds.

Brian Kjellberg mugshot taken after fatally shanking AJ Stewart in December 2021.

Two dozen family members and supporters of Kjellberg packed Judge Castro’s Ramsey County courtroom for the hour-long motion hearing on May 2, 2023. Defense attorneys Earl Gray and Amanda Montgomery sat at a table with Kjellberg across from prosecutors Hassan Tahir and Makenzie Lee.

The hearing was brought on by motions for acquittal (pdf) and a new trial (pdf) filed by Kjellberg’s defense two weeks after the trial. Gray said the motions were filed because the state didn’t prove Kjellberg wasn’t acting in self defense and that the jury was tainted by a Black foreman.

While arguing for the acquittal before the court, Gray noted Kjellberg was “100% disabled” after suffering a past “traumatic brain injury” a total of five times, which proved, Gray said, that Kjellberg was acting in self-defense after being punched by Stewart.

Judge Castro noted that the jury believed the state proved initial provocation was made by Kjellberg when he didn’t allow Stewart to return to his car. The judge then read the transcript of the cross examination of Kjellberg by the state during the trial, saying that prosecutor Tahir was doing the questioning and Kjellberg the answering:

Tahir: Okay. Ultimately, Mr. Stewart did come running at you. And he didn't start waving on you as soon as he approached you did he?
Kjellberg: No.
Tahir: In fact, goes again. You were telling him, do not step on my property, do not step on my property. Is that right?
Kjellberg: I believe I said that three to four times.
Tahir: Okay, and he was trying to just get to his car. Would you agree with that?
Kjellberg: I would agree. Yes.
Tahir: And you kept repeating to him. You say four or five times do not step on my property, right?
Kjellberg: Yes. 
Tahir: You could have just left him to go? 
Kjellberg: He could have stayed off my property. 
Tahir: The question I'm asking you is, could he have gotten in his car and just driven away? Right?
Kjellberg: Yes. 
Tahir: And that would have solved the problem.
Kjellberg: Yes.
Tahir: But you didn't allow that to happen. 
Kjellberg: No.

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Tahir said during the hearing, the state provided plenty of evidence in trial including an audio and video recording from a Ring Video Doorbell which reportedly showed the incident from a distance. The “tool” Kjellberg used, referring to the homemade shank that he killed Stewart with, and the fact that Kjellberg failed to retreat were also points made by the state. Minnesota laws say a person has a duty to retreat before one can use self-defense outside of their home.

Gray, at times, interrupting Judge Castro, argued that Kjellberg was backing up, beaten, and thrown into a rock pile and never “physically stopped [AJ] from getting into his car.” Poking at Stewart’s character, Gray mentioned that Kjellberg had called 911 and that Stewart “had conditional release and didn’t want the police called.”

Stewart’s family has been steadfast since AJ’s murder demanding hate crimes charges be filed against Kjellberg if not first-degree murder. After the guilty verdict, Stewart’s cousin, Tongo Eisen-Martin, told us the family was unsatisfied as the evidence showed the attack was racially motivated and hate crimes or first-degree murder charges were also warranted.

Judge Castro said he would look at the video again and return with a ruling at a later date. Neither of Gray’s motions were immediately successful but neither have failed. The next court date is the Schwartz hearing on May 17 at 1:30 p.m. in Judge Castro’s Ramsey County courtroom in Saint Paul.


Related Unicorn Riot coverage of white vigilantes:

Tyler Newby Sentenced to One Year Home Detention for Killing Dorian Murrell [Nov. 15, 2022]
Pawn Shop Owner Faces No Charges in Killing Calvin Horton, State Blames Protesters [Nov. 8, 2020]

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