Moriarty: State takeover of Zaria McKeever murder case is 'undemocratic'

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty blasted a decision by Governor Walz to assign Attorney General Keith Ellison to take over the prosecution in the murder of Zaria McKeever after criticism that plea deals Moriarty gave to two teen suspects were too lenient.

Moriarty has been under fire from the family of Zaria McKeever and public safety groups over plea deals she offered to two teens in McKeever's murder. Under the terms of the plea deal, the two teens would only have to serve two years in a youth facility, as long as they abided by certain conditions. Before Moriarty took office, former Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman was in the process of having the teens charged as adults.

Police said the two teens, under the direction of McKeever's ex-boyfriend Erick Haynes, broke into McKeever's Brooklyn Park apartment with the intent to kill McKeever's new boyfriend. However, officers say McKeever ended up being shot and killed at the hands of the two teens.

This week, the McKeever family begged Attorney General Keith Ellison to take over the case. Thursday, in a rare move, Governor Walz used his authority as governor to assign Ellison to take over the prosecution in the case – one day before the plea hearing for one of the teen suspects. Walz says he acted on a request from Ellison after Ellison's offer to take over the case to Moriarty was rejected.

Speaking Friday, Moriarty called the move "undemocratic."

"Part of what makes this job so hard, as a prosecutor, is that no matter what we do, we will never bring a loved one back to life or erase the trauma that comes with a crime like this one," said Moriarty. "Our goal must be going forward, not to compound the tragedy that has already happened."

Moriarty says the evidence shows that long prison sentences and harsh sentences for children don't work.

"It wasn't until voters started electing prosecutors who promised to follow research and evidence about what works best for safety and rehabilitation, that some decided to start to intervene," said Moriarty. "Now, when we see reform prosecutors elected, other elected officials have decided that we cannot use our discretion and make these very hard decisions. That is what the attorney general and the governor have done in this case. Their behavior is undemocratic."

In a statement on Thursday, Ellison said the decision to request the case was something that he "didn't take likely."

In a separate statement, Walz added: "My heart breaks for the McKeever family. We will not tolerate violent crime in Minnesota."

"They are entitled to their opinion, but their actions here show that they also don't really believe fully in democracy because they are stopping me from doing the job voters elected me to do only very recently, by the way, because they don't like this particular outcome," Moriarty added on Friday. "That is unacceptable. They have set a very dangerous precedent."

Moriarty's arguments were no comfort to activists or McKeever family members who showed up to the news conference on Friday.

"Just a waste of time," said Tiffynnie Epps, Zaria's sister. "She just wanted to say something to save face. She feels like the governor and the attorney general should not have done what they have done. But we were saying you shouldn't have done what you have done."

Walz's decision came in just ahead of a plea hearing Friday morning for the 15-year-old who pulled the trigger in McKeever's death. As for the other teen, his deal has already been signed by a judge, and he'll serve two years for the crime.