Parole denied for man convicted in ambush murder of Minneapolis police officer Jerry Haaf

A one-time gang member convicted in the killing of a Minneapolis police officer 30 years ago has been denied parole.

Pepi Mckenzie conspired in the ambush killing of Jerry Haaf in 1992.

Haaf was gunned down in an ambush attack at a popular Lake Street pizzeria, a shooting that rocked the city.

Four Vice Lord gang members were convicted for their roles in the deadly shooting. At the time, so-called life sentences in Minnesota called for the opportunity for an offender to earn a release after serving 30 years -- which brings us to Tuesday's hearing. It’s worth noting, Minnesota laws changed shortly after the Haaf slaying. Now defendants convicted of first-degree murder of a police officer must serve a mandatory life sentence.

Mckenzie was just 19 years old at the time of the shooting. Family and supporters describe Mckenzie as rehabilitated, remorseful, and worthy of release from the prison in Lino Lakes where he is currently housed. The now-49-year-old had a hearing this afternoon with Department of Corrections officials. Unsurprisingly, loved ones of Haaf and many, many in the law enforcement community believe he should remain behind bars.

That includes former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek – who was a Minneapolis police detective who investigated Haaf’s murder.

Pepi McKenzie (Supplied)

"He has served his minimum sentence that was given to him by the state of Minnesota, meaning he served 30 years," said Stanek. "As you know, at the time, it was 30 years to life for the murder of a police officer. He has barely served the minimum amount of time and we're already considering releasing him from prison. No, I don't think so."

"You look at the contrast of this young man of 19 when he went through 30 years of a rehabilitative process," said Pepi McKenzie’s defense attorney Arthur Martinez. "And if you look at a gold standard, what to do, you can look at Mckenzie and say he did everything you're supposed to do."

The decision on parole came down to the DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell. He called the Haaf family Tuesday afternoon before releasing the ruling publicly.

Mckenzie will receive another review of his sentence in 30 months -- which would be in May 2025.

"I take this element of the commissioner's role very seriously," Schnell wrote in a statement. "Public safety is the dominant consideration in making this decision, along with the input of the community and the victim’s family, and rehabilitation efforts by the person seeking parole. Mr. Mckenzie is not ready for release at this time. He has taken important steps in the direction of bettering himself and becoming someone different than he was the day he entered prison. I am hopeful Mr. McKenzie will work to gain more insight into the impact of the crime he committed and continue with the progress he has made."

The Department of Corrections points out, if ever released, Mckenzie would have to serve at least an additional 10 months for a 1996 conviction on possession of a weapon in prison.

In a statement, Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Executive Director Brian Peters wrote: "Police officers are satisfied justice continues to be served as former Officer Haaf’s killer will stay in prison, and not be granted leniency. Cold-blooded murderers of public safety officials should never be considered for release."