Man pleads guilty to fatal 2021 shooting of man in Minneapolis drive-thru lane

A West St. Paul man is scheduled to be sentenced later this fall for murdering a man in a Minneapolis White Castle drive-thru lane during the overnight hours of Aug. 15, 2021.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office says Lionell Jacque Hicks, 32, entered a guilty plea on Wednesday to one count of second-degree murder in the death of Tu’Quan Lee Smith, Sr.

Although the maximum sentence a judge could order for Hicks is 40 years behind bars, the plea agreement calls for 463 months (38.5 years) in prison and the dismissal of the felon in possession of a firearm charge. Hicks is currently scheduled to be sentenced on the morning of Nov. 21.

Smith was 29 at the time of his death, which was the city’s 58th homicide of the year.

As previously reported by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, police were called to the area of West Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue at 1:55 a.m. for multiple reports of a shooting. Their preliminary report said the occupants of two vehicles were shooting at one another.

An arrest warrant for Hicks, then 29, was issued for a charge of second-degree murder. That warrant was cleared in March of 2022.

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The criminal complaint says police spoke with witnesses, who told them a white Hyundai tried to leave the drive-thru, and it was followed by a black Malibu that Smith was in. It goes on to say the people inside the Malibu and Hyundai were friends, and the Hyundai’s driver asked the person who was driving a red Jeep, identified as a woman, to back up so they could leave.

After the driver backed up, the complaint says the Hyundai’s driver asked her to back up a bit more, and eventually the Hyundai passed the Jeep. That’s when the victim and the rear, driver’s side passenger of the Jeep spoke to each other, and a passenger in the Jeep leaned out of the window and fired shots into the Malibu, hitting Smith, according to court documents.

The woman driving the Jeep then sped off.

The red Jeep was eventually found, towed and searched, where police found paperwork from the DOC for Hicks, who was out on parole.

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Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty issued a statement regarding the plea agreement:

“This was a callous, destructive act that brought unimaginable pain to the victim’s family and my thoughts are with them today. Prioritizing community safety is paramount. Communities are suffering because there are too many guns in irresponsible hands that cause minor incidents to turn violent — and deadly — far too often. When necessary, we will use long prison sentences to protect the community and incapacitate those who commit this violence.”

Mary Moriarty