District Attorney Keith Ellison said Thursday he is seeking justice by taking on a murder case in Hennepin County after District Attorney Mary Moriarty reached a controversial plea agreement with two teenage boys accused of killing a 23-year-old woman.
Governor Tim Walz allowed Ellison to step in, a decision that came after protest from Zaria McIver’s family and others. It also appears to run counter to Ellison’s stance during last year’s re-election campaign, when he slammed the idea of circumventing the district attorney without his permission.
In an October interview, Ellison denounced Republican opponent Jim Schultz for saying he might try to avoid Moriarty if she wasn’t tough enough on offense. Ellison narrowly defeated Schultz weeks later.
“I am aware of the fact—and I want to say the fact of the matter—that they are fellows,” Ellison said of district attorney like then-candidate Moriarty, who endorsed him. “They don’t work for me, we work together. Because I respect them, they respect me and we cooperate and do justice.”
“(Schultz) is making all this noise about how he’s stomping on them all over the place,” Ellison told MinnPost amid a raging campaign that Schultz has focused on violent crime. “And that doesn’t make sense to me, not from the perspective of the victims in the first place.”
Ellison said at the time that Schultz was attempting a “mob crime” Avoiding interference, he said, would be a “practical thing” to avoid unnecessary conflict with the district attorney.
On Thursday, Ellison asked Walz to let him take charge of the murder case, in writing In a letter to the governor that Moriarty’s decisions were “so far out of the normal course to prosecute such a heinous crime, and so far out of society’s expectations.” Ellison writes that he initially asked Moriarty to reinstate the case, which she refused. Under state law, the AG can only intervene at the request of the district attorney or the governor. In this case, Falz Moriarty vetoed.
It says criminal charges 22-year-old Eric Haynes directed the teens – ages 15 to 17 – to break into McIver’s home last year to target her new boyfriend. Hines is the father of a 1-year-old daughter, McIver. According to the charges, one of the teens shot McIver dead in the confrontation, using a gun Haynes had given him.
Kare 11 reported that prosecutors under former Hennepin County District Attorney Mike Freeman had moved to certify the teens as adults on second-degree murder charges that could have resulted in a lengthy prison sentence. But the district attorney’s office headed by Moriarty instead offered a plea bargain in juvenile court for teenage boys in exchange for testimony against Hines. The deal will result in two years in prison for juveniles and the possibility of a longer sentence for adults if they violate an extended probation period that extends until they reach the age of 21.
While Moriarty said the decision was based The teen alleged Heinz’s role in organizing the confrontationThe plea bargain was sharply and publicly criticized by the McIver family.
Ellison’s letter says that Moriarty’s decision was surprising and that “the community as a whole” strongly opposes it. He offered to take over the trial, which Moriarty refused. The 17-year-old has already pleaded guilty, and Ellison’s letter to Walz says “It may be too late to change that.” The 15-year-old had a hearing scheduled for Friday morning.
Moriarty Ellison condemned, Saying in a long written statement He was defrauding the voters. She noted that the Minnesota District Attorney’s Association voted to oppose the AG asking Walz to award him the case. She said that trying a juvenile for murder without seeking adult testimony was not unprecedented.
Moriarty said of Ellison: “Bringing himself into these cases simply because he disagrees with the option I elected to make is deeply troubling and should concern plaintiffs across the state.” “This decision undermines the longstanding constitutional authority, independence, and responsibility of elected prosecutors. It threatens the very heart of the district attorney’s discretion and his role as an elected official answerable to the people to prosecute crime in the county.”
Campaign trail comments
Last fall, Schultz, the Republican nominee, said he would take a tough approach to prosecuting the crime. Schultz said he was concerned that Moriarty would not prosecute crime to his liking and might carry out some of the bureau’s “reckless plans.”
The Republican attorney floated the idea of changing the law that would allow him to take cases without the permission of a district attorney like Moriarty—or the governor. Overall, he said he will try to intervene when he feels it is necessary. Schultz would likely be more aggressive compared to Ellison in his attempt to veto Moriarty if elected.
Some Democrats have criticized Schultz, including Ellison himself. “This is the politics guy,” Ellison said of Schultz’s views. “This has nothing to do with justice or the law. It is not about prosecuting criminals in order to hold victims and the public accountable.”
Schultz said Friday that Ellison was “clearly wrong in his view (the campaign path) that the AG’s office will not play a meaningful role in ensuring justice is done in Hennepin County” and called on Ellison to get involved in other issues as well.
He said he was happy with the pressure from family, community leaders, and the police that led Ellison and Walls to “do what should have been done right away,” which was to certify juveniles as adults.
Schultz also said that Ellison was wrong to endorse Moriarty during the campaign, and said that both Ellison and Walls should call for her to resign. “I understand the district attorney’s reluctance to have an assistant agent in their territory,” Schultz said. But Mary Moriarty is a special circumstance. It’s not fit for the job.”
Ellison’s office did not respond when asked if they would like to comment on his campaign’s remarks. But he issued a written statement Thursday, saying he respects the election of district attorneys to exercise their discretion. He also acknowledged that it was a rare move for him to step in.
A similar takeover by the AG once occurred in the Crow Wing County case in the 1990s under Governor Rudy Perpich, said Robert Small, executive director of the County Attorneys Association.
“The governor’s power under state law has been used to assign criminal cases to the attorney general and must be used very sparingly, and I don’t expect a request like that to be made again,” Ellison said. The Attorney General is the Minister of Justice, and justice consists of accountability and mercy. While I share the belief that far too many juveniles are involved in the adult criminal justice system, accountability for the seriousness of this crime was lacking in this case.”