Teen gunman sentenced for St. Paul drive-by shooting of innocent woman

A Ramsey County District Court Judge has handed a teen gunman a 32-plus year prison sentence for a deadly drive-by shooting that killed an innocent woman, who was headed home from the grocery store in St. Paul last year.

Yuliya (Julia) Li was shot and killed along Payne Avenue on Feb. 16, 2022.

Authorities have said she went to the store to prepare for a dinner party she was hosting later in the week.

Melvin Williams, who was just 15 years old at the time, admitted he pulled the trigger, while driving himself. 

Initially investigators had said he opened fire at random. But on Tuesday at his sentencing hearing, Williams claimed he was aiming at a young man he had an ongoing beef with who was walking in a nearby intersection.

"This was not supposed to happen," Williams told the court. "I wish I could take it back every day. This was a true accident. I am so incredibly sorry for your loss and my role in it."

In imposing sentence, Judge Reynaldo Aligada, Jr. responded, "You knew the risks of firing a gun in a busy intersection during the day. Your criminal history and your experience showed you what could happen if your bullet went astray which it did."

Li was 34 years old and had come to the United States from Kazakhstan in search of peace, prosperity, advanced studies and the American dream when she was killed. Company officials had said Li was flourishing in her career at H.B. Fuller.

"That is the dream her mother, her family members, people in this courtroom had for her," prosecutor Kevin Fleming said during his arguments for the 386-month prison sentence.

Among those sharing victim impacts statements were Li’s husband Ubong Udoessien who joined the hearing via Zoom from Dubai. 

Fleming read a statement from Li’s grieving mother, written in Kazakhstan.

"It is important to note, your Honor, that the impact was not only felt locally. It was felt around the world," Fleming told the court.

Williams, who police had said had a troubling juvenile criminal history before the shooting, ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree, drive-by murder in adult court.

In addition to apologizing to Li’s family and his own, Williams promised to come out of prison a better and changed man. His attorneys announced he had just earned his high school diploma while locked up in juvenile detention for the better part of two years. 

With credit for time served, it is expected Williams will spend just shy of 20 years behind prison bars, the rest on some form of supervised release.