As voters across Miami-Dade County cast ballots in the contentious November 3, 2020 presidential election, police say a Donald Trump supporter was dangerously expressing his political views in Biscayne Bay with threats and a gun.
Provoked, police say, by a Joe Biden flag on a Jet Ski, Eduardo Acosta allegedly went berserk and attacked two men, shooting at them from his own personal watercraft as they fled on the water and then chasing and holding them at gunpoint. all while he repeats a conspiracy that Biden supporters are child molesters.
Two years later, Acosta, 39, faces charges including two counts of premeditated attempted murder with a weapon, two counts of aggravated assault with a weapon and robbery with a weapon.
His trial began this week as attorneys attempted to select a jury.
He faces life in prison, with a mandatory minimum of 20 years for discharging the firearm.
Although the charges are in dispute, the altercation, some of which was caught on video, was a clear reflection of how tense the political environment in South Florida had become by Election Day 2020. Now, efforts to find an impartial jury to decide Acosta’s fate have provided a window into how politically divided Miami remains ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Often the most tedious part of a trial, the jury selection process in the Acosta trial, which has lasted two days and could stretch into next week, has exposed raw sentiment, with dozens of potential jurors forced to argue. his feelings about the country’s polarized politics. .
On Tuesday, a potential juror said she could try to cope with overtones of violence in the case, even though a person close to her was brutally murdered in recent years. But she couldn’t put politics aside.
“Not that I think Biden is amazing, but Trump represents everything that I… despise,” the woman said. “I think he is a vile human being.” She was immediately fired.
One by one, other jurors followed up with equally intimate stories about how the last four years in politics had impacted their ability to be objective.
Several said they knew what it was like to almost lose friends or try to get through hurtful conversations with relatives divided by political ideologies.
“Things have been said that cannot be taken back,” a potential juror told attorneys.
Some potential jurors said they had attended pro-Trump rallies. One man said he rallied for Trump in Miami in the run-up to the 2020 election and claimed the event only got rowdy once anti-Trump protesters showed up to throw bottles and cans. Another said that, in fact, his wife had worked on the campaigns of the last three Republican governors of Florida.
But by far the most heated and vociferous opinions on the first day of jury selection were from citizens who did not feel they could fairly judge someone who supported Trump.
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Change of political identities
Once a stronghold of the Democratic Party in Florida, Miami-Dade County voters, and Hispanic voters in particular, have either consistently joined the Republican Party or not identified with either party since 2018.
And while Democrats still outnumber Republicans, Miami-Dade seems more like a divided battleground in recent years, in a state that Republicans insist is shifting farther to the right.
In recent years, Miami-Dade has also been the site of tense rallies and massive boat parades in support of Trump; it is common for boaters to have flags in support of Trump, Biden or, more recently, flags with the name and campaign. Governor Ron DeSantis logo.
Adding to the peculiarity of the case is that Acosta’s defense attorney, Eric Matheny, has taken advantage of local political commentary. He co-hosts a political podcast called “Bob and Eric Save America.” The podcast, named after Trump’s own political caucus, features a wide range of topics that appeal to right-wing and conservative listeners.
“In this country, we can still have verbal arguments about politics, we still have that right,” Matheny told the Herald on Tuesday.
While Matheny said he could not yet comment on the accusation against Acosta, Matheny argued that the state “overcharged” his client, something he said will become clear once the trial begins.
“You have no right to commit violence, you have no right to physically assault anyone. But if you go out and have a flag, I don’t care if it’s for Biden or Trump. … You invite people to comment on it,” she said.
According to the arrest affidavit, police say Acosta was on his jet ski with a group of men on Nov. 3, 2020, when they allegedly approached two other men, Wilson Peralta and Alfredo Garcia, who were spending the day at the small nearby island. Miami Marine Stadium.
One of them was waving a Biden flag on one of his own Jet Skis that read “Running with Biden.”
They began to argue, and according to the affidavit, Acosta said that anyone who supported Biden was a “child molester.” The slur stems from the QAnon conspiracy theory that a group of “deep state” child sex traffickers are secretly working to take down Trump.
According to cellphone video recorded by one of the two men, Acosta at one point lunged at them, but was stopped by one of the people in his group.
Accounts given to police at the time show that Acosta allegedly returned alone, this time with what the victims say was a black pistol in his hand.
Peralta and García got on their jet skis and tried to flee. One of them says that he heard a bullet go by. Both fell off their jet skis trying to flee, they told police.
Acosta caught up with them in the water and insisted on making a stronger statement, the affidavit states. Holding the two men at gunpoint, Acosta allegedly said in Spanish, “Don’t come back to this island. I’ll kill you.”
Garcia and Peralta said Acosta tied one of his jet skis to theirs and left.
Jury selection is expected to continue on Monday. Matheny says she hopes jurors’ political passions will continue to play a role in selecting him.
“That’s not to say that all of our jurors will be Democrats or Republicans, we really don’t care. We just want a fair and impartial jury, as to who is going to correctly and fairly decide the facts in this case,” she said. “That is the challenge because objectivity is a thing of the past. We all reside in our political echo chambers.”
As Acosta’s attorneys and prosecutors investigated potential jurors Tuesday, one man fielded questions about why he was listening to the podcast hosted by Joe Rogan, a political commentator whose controversial views on society and politics have sometimes turned into insults against Black and LGBTQ people.
One woman was asked to explain why she liked a tweet from Trump’s cousin, Mary Trump, calling the former president a “traitor” nearly two years ago. Another she openly confessed that political conversations made her anxious and that she would not be able to attend the trial.
The judge presiding over the case, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Daryl Trawick, excused some people almost immediately.
By Tuesday’s end, with several excused for various other reasons, the number of people in the pool of potential jurors was nearly halved.
Throughout the day, one of the prosecutors in the case, Rachel Morales-Gellis, paced the courtroom, peppering her audience of potential jurors with questions about her political bias.
“Remember that Donald Trump and Joe Biden are not defendants in this case. And they are not witnesses in this case,” Morales-Gellis said during his jury selection presentation Tuesday. “No one is going to judge you for your feelings or your thoughts. We just need to know what they are.”
As the first day of the trial concluded, Morales-Gellis posed a hypothetical scenario to a potential juror, after the woman indicated on her jury questionnaire that she had disagreements with the family over politics.
“Let’s just say… there was a physical fight started by one side,” he said. “Would you assume the person who started the fight is ‘fill in the blank?’ From what party?
“Trump,” the woman replied, without hesitation.
Miami Herald Staff Writer David Ovalle contributed to this story.