Murder charge dropped for father of slain toddler in drive-by shooting

He’s the father of a two-year-old shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. Although police believe the minivan Melvonte Peterson drove on July 8, 2016 was the intended target, Peterson was the one facing the murder charge - until Thursday.

“It’s very life changing,” LaShae Jones, the mother of two-year-old LeVonte King Jason Jones told Fox 9 in an exclusive interview back in September. “It’s not really a lot of stuff that I can do with my kids that won’t remind me of [LeVonte].”

Jones naturally still grieves the loss of her son who died after he was struck by a bullet fired from inside a black Impala at Penn and Lowry in North Minneapolis at 11:30 that morning.

“I want justice for my son,” Jones declared.

In late September, Jones launched a petition that has since garnered more than 600 signatures, calling the felony murder charge pressed against Peterson to be dismissed.

“I feel Melvonte should be charged with having a gun, yes, not shooting the actual kids,” Jones candidly shared.

According to the criminal complaint, after the first two shots there was a brief pause then nine more shots were fired. Surveillance video reveals Peterson’s van pulling away and jumping the curb as the first two shots are fired. The van turns onto Penn Avenue as the nine other shots are fired. The Impala drove away on Lowry.

“The bullet and gun that took my son’s life belonged to Chris Maurice Welch,” Jones told Fox 9.

Although Welch was initially suspected to be driving the Impala that day, he was released from jail less than a week after he was booked.

“Hopefully they catch whoever did it,” Welch told Fox 9 as he pulled his left ear lobe and walked away from the Hennepin County Jail.

Police recovered casings from a 45-caliber handgun in the intersection that fell along the path taken by the defendant’s van. Four bullets struck North End Hardware store, which was open for business and had staff and customers inside who heard the gunfire. The locations of the bullet holes on the store are consistent with bullets having been fired at the Impala as it drove away.

Records obtained from Peterson’s Facebook account show he was involved in trading one gun for a 45-caliber gun the day before the drive-by.

Peterson has been twice convicted of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance, in 2012 and in 2014, which is why he is prohibited from possessing firearms.

Thursday, the murder charge, negligence and child endangerment charges Peterson faced were dropped.

“When you look at what they actually charged him with and what the facts were it doesn’t really add up,” criminal defense attorney Christa Groshek told Fox 9.

“The court took a very solid common sense approach to these charges that appear to be kind of a stretch,” Groshek added.

A rep with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office tells Fox 9 a case against Peterson remains, but they are reviewing the opinion and considering their options.

Minneapolis Police meanwhile declined our request for an interview Thursday, but continue to seek the driver of the Impala.

“I would expect police officers to work covertly to use their contacts on the street, to try to find this person and they’re going to do that very cautiously,” Groshek said of MPD’s hesitation to discuss the case.

The two charges Peterson still faces are felony possession of a firearm and a felony drive-by shooting charge. If he’s found guilty, Groshek estimates Peterson could face up to six years in prison.

“This defendant is looking at substantially less time in prison than if he would’ve been convicted of felony murder in the second degree,” Groshek said, describing Thursday’s ruling as a “win” for Peterson.

In a message to Fox 9 Thursday, Jones shared since her toddler’s death she has moved to a safer neighborhood, started a new job, and is pleased her life is turning around for the better.