Walz intervenes, assigns AG Ellison to handle Zaria McKeever murder case
The governor has intervened in the prosecution of a Hennepin County murder case, assigning the state’s top prosecutor to handle it instead of the county attorney.
Gov. Tim Walz exercised his statutory authority Thursday afternoon to assign Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to handle the case of Zaria McKeever, who was shot and killed in a Brooklyn Park apartment in November of 2022.
“My heart breaks for the McKeever family,” Walz said in a statement.
“We will not tolerate violent crime in Minnesota. I have absolute confidence in Attorney General Ellison,” Governor Walz continued. “He has requested this important case and stepped up once again to serve the people of Minnesota. I know Keith will work tirelessly to seek justice and bring a modicum of peace to the grieving family.”
Two adults and two juveniles, aged 17 and 15, agreed to plead guilty to McKeever’s death after Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty offered plea deals to keep them in the juvenile system rather than adult court, where her predecessor had sought to have them certified. Moriarty’s move drew criticism from many in the community.
Last week, the Minnesota Police Association called for state intervention, calling Moriarty’s handling of the case “an appalling decision.”
Walz’s move comes a day after McKeever’s father told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he wanted Ellison to take over the case, and Ellison agreed.
The governor’s announcement notes that Ellison formally requested this move, something that has rarely happened, and adds that this option “should remain an option of last resort.”
In Ellison’s letter to Walz requesting the assignment, the attorney general wrote, “Zaria McKeever’s family is adamantly opposed to this disposition, as is the community at large.” He added that, because of that strong opposition, he offered to take over the case but, “That offer was refused.”
“The disposition offered by the county attorney is inappropriate, so far outside the normal course for the prosecution of such a heinous crime, and so far outside of community expectations,” Ellison’s letter continued.
Following the governor’s announcement, Ellison provided the following statement Thursday:
“My request to Governor Walz to assign the prosecution of this case to my office is one I did not make lightly. I requested that Hennepin County refer the prosecution of this case to my office, as the law provides, but they declined to do so. The Governor’s power under state law to assign criminal cases to the Attorney General has been used and should be used very sparingly, and I do not expect to make a request like it again.
“A prosecutor is a minister of justice, and justice is comprised of both accountability and mercy. While I share the belief that too many juveniles are involved in the adult criminal-justice system, accountability for the seriousness of this crime has been missing in this case. I respect that county attorneys are duly elected by their constituents to exercise their discretion; however, the disposition of the juvenile shooter that Hennepin County has proposed in this case is disproportionate to the seriousness of the crime committed and falls far short of the family’s and community’s expectations for justice and safety. My office will pursue justice in all its aspects in the prosecution of this case.”Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison
In her response to the move, Moriarty called Ellison’s request “deeply troubling,” adding that it “should alarm prosecutors across the state.”
She added that she understands not everyone agrees with all of her decisions “but the people of this county elected me to make that final and difficult call.”
Moriarty’s full statement can be read below.
“Zaria McKeever’s family has experienced an unimaginable tragedy and I know that they were disappointed by my decision. They have every right to express that disappointment however they see fit.
“The prosecutors in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office are the best and most experienced in the state when it comes to prosecuting serious violent crime. They have worked tirelessly to prosecute those responsible for Zaria’s death. After the police arrested three people in connection with her murder, the dedicated work of our attorneys led to the apprehension and charging of two more suspects. Five individuals have now been charged by our office in connection with her murder.
“At the end of the day, prosecutors must consider the victims’ wishes, the factors of youth, and what protects public safety in both the short and the long term. We must do everything in our power to reach what we think is a just outcome. Not everyone will agree what that is, but the people of this county elected me to make that final and difficult call. In this case, 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.
“Prosecuting a juvenile for homicide without seeking an adult certification is not unprecedented in Minnesota. But the Attorney General’s decision to insert himself in a prosecution when an elected County Attorney is actively prosecuting a case is unprecedented.
“Inserting himself in these cases simply because he disagrees with the choice I was elected to make is deeply troubling and should alarm prosecutors across the state. This decision undermines the longstanding constitutional authority, autonomy, and responsibility of elected prosecutors. It threatens the very core of a local prosecutor’s well-settled discretion and role as an elected official accountable to the people to prosecute crime in the county. This is why the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association unanimously voted to oppose the Attorney General asking the Governor to give him the case, despite the Attorney General asking for their support. This is also why they oppose the Governor exercising his authority when a prosecutor is actively prosecuting a case.
“We have approached this case trying to balance the need for justice, the need for accountability, and the fact that we have a tenth grader who can either be kept in the juvenile system or locked up with people three times his size and are three times his age. Our decisions were not easy but we stand by them. We sought accountability for all who played a role in Zaria’s murder and the later coverup. This is a disagreement over the exercise of a core prosecutorial function – determining appropriate charges and recommendations on sentencing in an active prosecution.
“I am sure that the Attorney General has disagreed with many outcomes in many cases in this state over the years, some because the sentences are too low and some because the sentences are too harsh. It is unfortunate that, in what has become a very high-profile case, he has decided to instigate an unprecedented intervention.”Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty
From first learning of the plea deals, the family of McKeever has publically criticized the county attorney and called on the attorney general to step in. Thursday, Governor Walz called them directly — it’s a call they say was unexpected, but welcomed.
“I answered [the phone] and he’s like, ‘Hey, is this Tiffany? It’s Tim,’” Tiffynnie Epps, McKeever’s sister, said. “I’m like ‘Tim who?’ And he’s like, ‘Walz.’ And I’m like, ‘The governor?,’” Epps added with enthusiasm. “I just like took off running to my mom because I’m like, ‘This has to be the break we needed.’”
McKeever’s step-father, Paul Greer, says they don’t wish any “ill feelings” towards the county attorney, but they feel the attorney general is the right person to handle this case.
“When you have a prosecutor that has more sympathy for the ones who committed the crime, versus the one who got the crime committed to, it’s sad, it makes a mockery of what justice is supposed to be about,” Greer said.