Juvenile justice debate centered around Brooklyn Park mother’s murder case

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A murder case involving a metro area mother is sparking debate over juvenile justice.

Upset about how the case is being handled by Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) called on the state to get involved with the murder case of Zaria McKeever.

McKeever, 23, was shot and killed in November after two juveniles, ages 15 and 17, broke into the apartment she was in. Prosecutors say the teens were given a gun by McKeever’s ex-boyfriend, who arranged for the teens to beat up her boyfriend at the time.

The teens, along with three others, have been charged in McKeever’s death. As we first reported in November, prosecutors intended to charge the teens as adults. But, after a guilty plea from one teen, and an expected guilty pleas from the other, the two will instead be sentenced as juveniles. Sentencing will include two years at the Red Wing Juvenile Prison and required rehabilitation.

And that is the issue for the MPPOA and its general counsel, Imran Ali.

“It was appalling,” Ali said about the decision to sentence the teens as juveniles instead of adults.

“When we look at the facts in a case, when we look at the charges in a case, in the United States at least, murder is the highest — it’s the worst of the worst crimes,” Ali said. “And to see that being given not the emphasis that [it] should is just appalling.”

According to the HCAO, if the teens “violate the terms of their sentences in any way – whether by failing to follow programming, committing a new crime, refusing to engage in positive activities, or taking actions that show they are returning to their former patterns of criminal behavior – they face immediate transfer to adult state prison, where they would both serve substantially lengthy sentences.”

In part of a statement shared Tuesday, the MPPOA said Moriarty, “armed with a new policy on juvenile crime, determined that murder is an offense that will no longer require incarceration.”

Ali says that “policy” mentioned in the statement references a five-page Hennepin County Attorney’s Office memo which gives guidance on how to handle juvenile cases.

The attorney’s office says the memo is not policy and pushed back on the MPPOA’s claims, sending the following statement:

“The new county attorney is engaging in important conversations with law enforcement and others to seek input on potential new policies and ideas for how to best deal with crime across the county. In the meantime, youth prosecutors in our office requested guidance to help them as they make decisions about their cases every day. The goal is to be doing everything possible to support victims and prevent kids from repeating the same harmful behavior that landed them in the system.”

Hennepin County Attorney’ Mary Moriarty’s Office

Part of the obtained memo reads, in part: “We are not here to rigidly implement policies based on categories of offenses. We are also not here to make decisions about cases with no regard for the unique circumstances of each youth and case we are considering.”

The memo references children’s brains not being fully developed and how that can affect behavior; it also highlights research that shows sending juveniles to the adult criminal system often has a negative impact on long-term community safety and the youth.

The memo does not say juveniles will never be charged as adults, but it does say adult certification currently needs approval.

Throughout these development, McKeever’s family has pressed for the teens involved her case to be tried as adults. They’ve even started an online petition urging people to support their goal of getting Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison involved in their case.

Neith Ellison nor his office responded for comment surrounding Tuesday’s developments, but late last week, the AG’s office said it’s prepared to help and believes it can bring “comfort and confidence to the family.”