Progressive leaders spar over ‘outrageous’ plea offer in murder case.

Make no mistake, Governor Tim Walz’s appointment of Attorney General Keith Ellison to take over a murder case from Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty is significant. It was the right thing to do, and so is acknowledging the Governor and AG’s role in getting it right. 

The case involves two juvenile brothers who shot and killed a young mother, execution style, during a home invasion in Brooklyn Park last November. Because of the seriousness of the crime, former County Attorney Mike Freeman’s office had originally charged the juveniles as adults and intended on trying them in adult court, where they would face significant time in prison if convicted.

However, just a few months into her first term as Hennepin County Attorney, Moriarty made the stunning decision to offer the two defendants a plea deal that would adjudicate them as juveniles, send them to the juvenile correctional facility at Red Wing for two years of rehabilitation, and then put them on probation until their 21st birthdays.

Moriarty’s decision should not have been the surprise that it was. She didn’t hide her intentions to lead the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office in a dramatically more progressive manner during her 2022 campaign. Specific to juvenile crime, which now routinely involves armed carjackings, robberies, assaults, and murders, Moriarty was clear in her admonition to us all that “we need to treat kids like kids.”

During last year’s campaign, the DFL endorsed Moriarty. So did Ellison and key DFL legislative leaders such as Rep. Cedric Frazier, who serves on House public safety-related committees. Sadly, these endorsements dismissed Martha Holton Dimick, a veteran African American prosecutor and judge who lived in north Minneapolis and knew firsthand what was needed to help bring back a sense of accountability and respect for law and order to our criminal justice system.

Nonetheless, the DFL plowed ahead with an ultra-progressive as its lead prosecutor candidate. It was ill-conceived then, and the state’s takeover of an in-progress murder case from Moriarty just three months into her first term is a stunning indication that some in the DFL are beginning to see the light.

“This is outrageous” AG Ellison reportedly said to the Brooklyn Park Police Chief on Wednesday as they greeted one another at a community meeting called to address concerns over Moriarty’s plea deal. The Star Tribune has reported on the meeting and the decision by the state to take over the case in two articles found here and here.

According to the Star Tribune, Ellison made a request of Moriarty to turn over the prosecution to his office, but she declined, indicating that Ellison’s request was “deeply troubling.” Such a takeover is thought to be unprecedented, having occurred only once in modern history. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision — it was Moriarty’s decision to put public safety at risk that was wrong.

As noted in a previous article by Center of the American Experiment (CAE), Moriarty’s decision was based on her belief that the human brain is not fully developed until 25 years of age. Her plea agreement called for the juveniles to receive “rehabilitation” at Red Wing, though it remains unclear what, if any, actual “rehabilitation” the Department of Corrections (DOC) can provide in such a case.

CAE has reached out to the DOC multiple times for an answer and has learned only that “programming is based on the specific and individual needs of those placed at Red Wing.” It seems legitimate to have concerns over whether there is actual programming designed to “rehabilitate” young men who have shown such a lack of empathy for others. Regardless, two years of rehabilitation is not a serious solution, and it disregards the obvious public benefit that the incapacitation of serious offenders can and should play — especially in murder cases.

The Minnesota County Attorney’s Association, a significant stakeholder in this issue, opposes the state takeover, saying that it sets a bad precedent by allowing the state the ability to take over any case it disagrees with. The flaw in that argument is that the state already has that ability, and the state followed the established procedure for doing so in a case rightfully described as “outrageous.” While it is defending its members’ interest, the position taken by the MCAA is without a doubt at odds with the public on this case, and at odds with public safety in general.

Moriarty responded to the state’s action this morning with a press conference, which can be seen here. It is clear the experience has not swayed her mind on the legitimacy of her decision, but she is also clearly uncomfortable with the public and professional backlash she has received as a result of making such decisions.

The state takeover of this case is indeed significant and highlights the obvious tension on the left over public safety policy.  Those concerned with the direction our public safety policy is headed should maintain interest as this case progresses. Let’s hope it is an earnest sign that the public safety pendulum is beginning to, ever so slightly, swing back to the right.