Statement of Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty
Zaria McKeever's family has experienced an unimaginable tragedy and I know that they were disappointed by my decision. They have every right to express that disappointment however they see fit.
The prosecutors in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office are the best and most experienced in the state when it comes to prosecuting serious violent crime. They have worked tirelessly to prosecute those responsible for Zaria’s death. After the police arrested three people in connection with her murder, the dedicated work of our attorneys led to the apprehension and charging of two more suspects. Five individuals have now been charged by our office in connection with her murder.
At the end of the day, prosecutors must consider the victims’ wishes, the factors of youth, and what protects public safety in both the short and the long term. We must do everything in our power to reach what we think is a just outcome. Not everyone will agree what that is, but the people of this county elected me to make that final and difficult call. In this case, we believe our request for an initial juvenile sentence, along with the potential for a long adult prison sentence, gives us the best chance to protect public safety by investing in rehabilitation while still having accountability.
Prosecuting a juvenile for homicide without seeking an adult certification is not unprecedented in Minnesota. But the Attorney General’s decision to insert himself in a prosecution when an elected County Attorney is actively prosecuting a case is unprecedented.
Inserting himself in these cases simply because he disagrees with the choice I was elected to make is deeply troubling and should alarm prosecutors across the state. This decision undermines the longstanding constitutional authority, autonomy, and responsibility of elected prosecutors. It threatens the very core of a local prosecutor’s well-settled discretion and role as an elected official accountable to the people to prosecute crime in the county. This is why the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association unanimously voted to oppose the Attorney General asking the Governor to give him the case, despite the Attorney General asking for their support. This is also why they oppose the Governor exercising his authority when a prosecutor is actively prosecuting a case.
We have approached this case trying to balance the need for justice, the need for accountability, and the fact that we have a tenth grader who can either be kept in the juvenile system or locked up with people three times his size and are three times his age. Our decisions were not easy but we stand by them. We sought accountability for all who played a role in Zaria’s murder and the later coverup. This is a disagreement over the exercise of a core prosecutorial function – determining appropriate charges and recommendations on sentencing in an active prosecution.
I am sure that the Attorney General has disagreed with many outcomes in many cases in this state over the years, some because the sentences are too low and some because the sentences are too harsh. It is unfortunate that, in what has become a very high-profile case, he has decided to instigate an unprecedented intervention.