NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The evidence phase of the trial for Alex Friedmann began on Tuesday with opening arguments and the prosecution's first witness.
"When I tell you what happened in this case, you may think it is a made-up story from a Hollywood movie," said Assistant District Attorney Amy Hunter.
Watch video of Tuesday's trial session in the video player below:
Friedmann is accused of hiding weapons inside the new downtown Davidson County Jail in 2019.
A jury of seven men and five women was selected over the course of six hours on Monday.
Friedmann is facing a charge of felony vandalism of more than $250,000.
Ben Raybin, who is representing Friedmann, admitted his client did commit vandalism, saying during his opening statement that Friedmann was seen on video committing numerous acts of vandalism.
"Mr. Freidmann did commit numerous acts of vandalism in that jail. There's no secret and no dispute," said Ben Raybin.
Instead, Raybin argued his client is being "overcharged" by the government. He said while Friedmann did vandalize the building, the damages did not exceed $250,000.
Video of Friedmann sneaking in during construction of the new Davidson County jail was shown as evidence during the trial. In it, he can be seen walking around hiding weapons, ammunition, tools and more.
He was caught in early 2020 when an alert officer noticed missing keys. A resulting search of the jail found hidden contraband.
"They pulled back a mirror and behind this mirror found a wall tampered with and something placed in a wall," Hunter said in her opening statement. It was one of three guns found hidden in the jail.
Prosecutors concede they never found any evidence of a conspiracy or what Friedmann had planned. The only thing the defense at this trial will dispute is the cost of the vandalism.
Sheriff Daron Hall, who was called as the first witness for the prosecution, said Friedmann dressed up like a construction worker and hid weapons throughout the jail. Back in 2020, Hall called the case "the most dangerous thing we've ever experienced."
Hall ordered all locks be changed and said that thousands of hours of security video had to be screened to see where Friedmann hid items in the wall.
"I said, 'we aren't opening the building until we know it can be secured,'" said Hall. "I went to the city and said, 'this is a sophisticated evil act and it would cost a lot of money.'"
Testimony will continue on Wednesday.
In-Depth: Alex Friedmann Case
For more than a decade, Alex Friedmann worked to become a leader in advocating for criminal justice issues in Tennessee. He took up the cause after he was sentenced to ten years in prison on an assault charge. Since his 1999 release, he's written legal journals and pushed prison reform policy, including testifying on Capitol Hill and at the Tennessee State Capitol and even speaking with NewsChannel 5 about prison safety concerns.
In January 2020, Friedmann was charged with attempted burglary, evidence tampering and possession of burglary tools. The Davidson County Sheriff's Office said he broke into the new downtown detention center while it was being constructed. The sheriff's office said in December 2019, employees noticed a set of keys with a ring that looked different from the others, then later confirmed two facility keys were missing.
Friedmann allegedly dressed as a construction worker and was seen entering the control room. Police said he then entered the room and placed a key ring in his pocket, left the DDC through the front lobby, returned two hours later, and replaced the keys, again with two missing. When officers arrested Friedman, they found an igloo cooler he was carrying into the facility contained bolt cutters and a document identified as schematics of the detention center.
Sources told NewsChannel 5 the break-in was part of a plot to compromise the security of the new jail.
In early February 2020, it was announced all 1,800 locks at the new detention center will have to be replaced Friedmann allegedly broke in. Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall called it the "most significant security breach in Nashville history."
Weeks later, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office announced it had uncovered a "massive escape plan" allegedly created by Friedmann. He was accused of hiding loaded guns, various tools and additional ammunition in the new downtown detention center over a period of months.
Sheriff Daron Hall called the alleged plan extremely deliberate and evil, adding he believed Friedmann put the lives of law enforcement in "imminent danger." Friedmann was arrested on a felony vandalism charge.
A spokesperson for Bell and Associates Construction, the construction company behind the new jail, called the breach 'domestic terrorism' and unprecedented.
By April 2020, Sheriff Hall said the new detention center was deemed "safe and secure." The case delayed the opening of the new facility.
In September 2021, NewsChannel 5 learned Friedmann filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Correction in federal court, claiming to be unfairly locked up with dangerous convicted felons. He is being housed at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison while awaiting trial.
Sheriff Hall responded to the lawsuit publicly in an interview with NewsChannel 5, calling Friedmann dangerous.
"The evidence of what he's done, the proof of what he's done. As far as I'm concerned he needs to be in the most secure environment there is not just today, but forever," said Hall.
In December 2021, a judge sided with Friedmann, ordering he no longer be kept in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. The Tennessee Department of Corrections didn't immediately comply so as a result, Friedmann's lawyer argued TDOC should be held in contempt.
After another day in court, TDOC finally agreed to allow Friedmann more time outside his cell and more interaction with others.