MINNEAPOLIS — The family of murder victim Zaria McKeever, at a community meeting at Shiloh Temple in North Minneapolis, sat alongside community leaders including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison -- in bringing attention to what say is an injustice.
"This was not a drive-by. This was not someone in a car inadvertently speeding by and inadvertently shooting and then a victim was hit without one's knowledge. This was a cold calculated murder," Rev. Jerry McAfee said at the meeting.
"Make no mistake about it, it was an execution. Stood over her body and put five bullets in her," said McKeever's stepfather Paul Greer.
McKeever was shot to death in her apartment last November -- allegedly by a 15-year-old, who along with his 17-year-old brother kicked in her apartment door.
They were charged with murder along with McKeever's ex-boyfriend Erick Haynes, who's accused of giving the boys the gun and driving them there.
Initially, prosecutors planned to certify the juveniles as adults, but after Mary Moriarty became Hennepin County Attorney, her office reversed course -- offering the boys a plea bargain to serve two years in the Red Wing juvenile prison and testify against Haynes.
McKeever's family protested that decision, but juvenile prosecution reform was among Moriarty's campaign promises, which she believes increases public safety in the long term by rehabilitating youth offenders instead of sending them into the adult prison system.
"So we are following the science. And as I said in the campaign, we need to treat kids like kids. Kids aren't simply small adults. Their brains aren't as developed. They're subject to peer pressure, risky behavior, manipulation by adults is what happened here. And they can be rehabilitated," Moriarty said in a prior interview with KARE 11 News.
"We're not saying the teenagers can't be reformed," said McKeever's sister Tiffynnie Epps, before adding that their family believes two years is not enough for what happened in this case -- and they've asked Ellison to take it from Moriarty.
"I agree with the family and the community that the disposition the county attorney has proposed for this juvenile that was the shooter in this heinous crime is inappropriate," Ellison said at the meeting. "This proposed disposition is far outside community expectations, it does not factor in victim impact and community impact, and I think it does not actually adequately address the issue of rehabilitation for the juvenile because if the juvenile is being given 24 months because of an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, that prefrontal cortex will not be fully developed in two years. So it doesn’t make sense and it’s also important to consider the family."
But Ellison said he does not have an announcement to make concerning whether he's stepping in. And the 15-year-old's plea will be before a judge on Friday.
McKeever's stepfather called out the attorney general for not requesting Gov. Tim Walz to exercise his power to give him the case.
"You were our last hope. You gave us hope when we met with you," Greer said.
Minnesota statute 8.01 says in part, "Whenever the governor shall so request, in writing, the attorney general shall prosecute any person charged with an indictable offense, and in all such cases may attend upon the grand jury and exercise the powers of a county attorney."
Members of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association say the only time a Minnesota governor has exercised that power was in the 1990s when the Crow Wing County Attorney was refusing to prosecute sex crimes.
In the cases involving Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter, the county attorneys requested the attorney general to take over.
When pressed for more information, Ellison said, "I cannot possibly be taking this more seriously. It is the thing I devoted more time on than anything in the last three weeks, and I have a trial going on in downtown right now," referring to the high-profile lawsuit against vape company Juul.
Moriarty's office was not informed about the community meeting at Shiloh Temple. In a statement, a spokesperson said:
"Zaria’s death was a devastating tragedy and we are deeply sorry to her family for their loss and continued pain. Like prosecutors across the state, we respect the right of anyone to disagree with our decisions – which for every county attorney is inevitable. But at the end of the day, after considering the wishes of the victims, the factors of youth, and what protects public safety in both the short and the long term, it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to reach what we think is a just outcome. We know that the Attorney General wants retribution against this 15-year-old, but we believe our request for an initial juvenile sentence, along with the potential for a long adult prison sentence, gives us the best chance to protect public safety by investing in rehabilitation while still having accountability. We cannot reveal the individual factors that lead us to this conclusion, because they are confidential in any case involving a 15-year-old. But we believe, after a thorough investigation and a long deliberative process, this is the right result in this case.
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