Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty slammed Governor Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison during a news conference Friday after the governor used his executive power to pull the Zaria McIver murder case from her office and turn it over to Ellison’s office.
Moriarty faced backlash for reaching a plea deal with two teenage defendants, including members of the McIver family, as well as Ellison, who publicly criticized the plea bargain at Wednesday’s event.
“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,” Ellison said in a written statement.
Waltz A letter was issued The next day, Ellison’s office was assigned to the case, followed by a statement in which the governor said he had complete confidence in Ellison “to pursue justice and bring a modicum of peace to the grieving family.”
Related: Ellison took over the murder case from Moriarty at odds with the campaign’s criticism of the Republican Party
Walz’s letter to Ellison reads, “This power is seldom used, and should remain an option of last resort.” “As I have discussed with you, you have decided to exercise this authority solely at your official written request. Your letter makes it clear that you are requesting authority to prosecute the individuals responsible for the killing of Zaria McIver.”
The case involves two brothers, ages 15 and 17, who were allegedly directed by the ex-boyfriend of 23-year-old McIver to shoot and kill McIver in her Brooklyn Park apartment last November. Moriarty’s office offered juvenile plea bargains that included shorter sentences in exchange for cooperation in the case against the ex-boyfriend.
Moriarty compared Walz and Ellison’s meddling to state officials in Republican-led states targeting progressive plaintiffs and interfering by withdrawing cases, including one case in Florida where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Tampa Attorney General Andrew Warren after Warren vowed not to prosecute people. Under new state restrictions on abortion and gender emphasis.
“This governor and this attorney general are doing exactly – precisely – what their opponents promised in the last election,” she said. “Their actions here show that they also don’t really believe in democracy completely because they are preventing me from doing the job that the voters chose me to do, recently by the way, because they don’t like that very outcome.”
The Minnesota District Attorney’s Association voted unanimously to oppose Walls’ and Ellison’s decision, Moriarty said, and agreed that the decision to intervene could set a dangerous precedent since any district attorney’s judgment could be challenged if someone disagrees with the outcome of a case.
The first-term attorney general defended her decision, saying she campaigned on reform that included restorative justice over long prison terms, and the people of Hennepin County elected her to carry it out.
“We can send this 15-year-old to prison, and he gets out in his early 30s. We know from research and all the people I’ve talked to who’ve been to prison, that he’s going to be very traumatized and he’s going to come out more likely to commit violence,” she said. “It will be more dangerous for society.”
Several members of the McKeever family, including her sister Tiffynnie Epps, shouted questions at Moriarty during the press conference, questioning the precedent Moriarty was setting by issuing reduced sentences to people accused of murder.
“Wrong,” Epps said. “This is the answer.”
In an interview, Epps said she met with Ellison and sent several emails and tweets to the governor to try to reassign the case.
“You’re here to prosecute, not a public defence, not slaps on the wrist, not to give time-outs,” Epps said. “You are here to go after people and accuse them of their crimes.”
Main Post reporter Kyle Stokes contributed to this report.