Suspect charged in 2016 drive-by shooting death of 2-year-old in Minneapolis

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A mug shot of Chris Maurice Welch from May 2017. Photo Courtesy: Hennepin County Jail

A suspect has been charged in connection with the murder of 2-year-old Le'Vonte "King" Jason Jones, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in July 2016.

Jones was killed when the minivan he was riding in was hit by gunfire July 8 at the intersection of Penn Avenue North and Lowry Avenue North. He was hit in the chest and later died at the hospital. 

His 15-month-old sister, Melia Jones, was also in the minivan at the time of the shooting and suffered a gunshot wound to the leg.

According to police, surveillance video from the scene shows the van pull away and jump the curb as the first shots are fired. Police said the shots came from inside a black Chevy Impala in the next lane, but they could not find the driver.

At one point, police arrested 31-year-old Chris Maurice Welch on suspicion that he was the shooter, but he was later released due to lack of evidence. However, after speaking with several witnesses who reported either being with or speaking to Welch before, during and after the shooting, Welch was charged with second-degree murder.

According to the criminal complaint, a witness told police that Welch recognized the minivan and shot out of the passenger window, leaning over the passenger in the front seat. The driver of the minivan was identified as Melvonte Peterson.

A witness reportedly told police that Melvonte Peterson stole from Welch, and Welch previously stated he would kill Peterson. The witness also said he spoke with Welch after the shooting, and Welch said he "didn't mean to shoot a kid."

Since the time of the shooting, Welch has been incarcerated in various locations. According to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, Welch is currently in custody, sentenced to 17 years in federal prison for being a career criminal in possession of a firearm. 

Police believe Peterson exchanged gunfire with Welch. Peterson was charged in connection to the shooting, but the charges were eventually dropped.

"Violence affects everyone, but this one was the most vulnerable of our community; when kids are shot and killed, the entire city mourns," Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said during Monday's press conference.

"Welch is currently in federal prison, but he will come back and stand for justice," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. "He was the prime suspect, but we didn’t have sufficient evidence. But, people who cared came forward, investigators worked hard, and we were able to charge him."

Freeman said they believe Welch fired the first shot, and though Welch intended to shoot Peterson, he struck the boy instead. Welch is charged with second degree murder.

Family members also spoke briefly at the press conference, thanking police and those who came forward to help reach a conviction.

"We are thankful for the persistency of the MPD and attorney’s office for sticking with this seemed hopeless at points, but we never give up," said Pastor Danny Givens.