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Juvenile charged in 2019 killing of Twin Cities lawyer to be tried as adult, Minn. Supreme Court rules

Minnesota’s high court ruled this week that the defendant, who was 15 when a Twin Cities lawyer was shot and killed during a carjacking, will be tried as an adult. He faces nearly 30 years.

FSA Minnesota supreme court
The chambers of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Forum News Service file photo
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ST. PAUL — A juvenile facing charges of aiding and abetting murder in the 2019 shooting death of a Twin Cites lawyer can be tried as an adult, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled this week.

In a 4-1 decision, the state’s high court agreed with an appeals court’s decision that recognized certain aggravating factors were present in the case that, if the minor — referred to in court documents as H.B. — were to be prosecuted as a juvenile, he would likely become an assumptive risk to public safety, and should therefore be prosecuted as an adult.

The case stems from a June 11, 2019, incident when Plymouth, Minnesota, lawyer Steve Markey was shot and killed during an armed robbery. According to court documents, then-17-year-old Jered Ohsman fired shots that struck Markey, while H.B., then 15 years old, fired shots into the vehicle.

Ohsman.jpg
Jered Ohsman

After the pair were arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder and first-degree armed robbery, among other charges, H.B. and Ohsman admitted to the crimes, according to court documents. H.B. was ultimately charged with aiding and abetting the murder.

Though it took roughly one year and one month for Ohsman to be convicted of murder, for which he was sentenced to 22 years in prison, the case involving H.B. became more time-consuming as the state’s Fourth District Court denied the prosecution’s motion to try H.B. as an adult.

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Under Minnesota law, juveniles accused of committing certain serious crimes are presumptively tried as adults if they were 16 or older at the time. While children under the age of 14 are considered legally incapable of committing a crime, juveniles ages 14 and 15 can be certified as adults and tried as such.

To certify a juvenile defendant as an adult, prosecutors must satisfy any number of six factors, including:

  • the seriousness of an allegation;
  • the culpability of the juvenile;
  • the juvenile’s prior record;
  • the juvenile’s past participation in programs;
  • the adequacy of punishment available,
  • and the dispositional options the juvenile may face.

In H.B.’s case, a district court judge originally found that H.B. had a record, was “fully culpable” and had not completed any treatment programs. Despite the court’s own finding that a presumptive 48-month sentence in the juvenile corrections system was “woefully inadequate” when compared to the presumptive adult sentence of nearly 30 years, a judge ruled against adult certification.
Following an appeal from prosecutors in May 2021, an appellate court held similar findings but overturned the district court’s decision, concluding that public safety was at risk should H.B. be prosecuted under juvenile guidelines, especially considering his prior record. The court of appeals decided the district court erred in electing not to certify H.B. for prosecution as an adult.

Defense attorneys then filed a petition with the state’s Supreme Court, arguing that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to certify H.B. as an adult, and that the appeals court’s decision should be vacated.

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Justice Natalie Hudson

In a 36-page document filed Nov. 16, Justice Natalie Hudson opined that the legislative history behind the six factors weighed by the lower courts dictates that a single criterion involving greater public safety was enough to make the case for adult certification of an accused juvenile offender.

In a one-sentence conclusion, Hudson affirmed the appellate court’s decision to certify H.B. as an adult, an affirmation to which Justices Anne McKeig, Margaret Chutich and Gordon Moore concurred.

Justice Paul Thissen, however, disagreed.

In a 49-page dissenting opinion, Thissen pointed to H.B.’s upbringing on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota.

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“His mother had — and continues to have — serious alcohol and drug addiction issues since before H.B.’s birth. His father has been incarcerated for most of H.B.’s life, and his parental rights were terminated,” Thissen wrote. “H.B. had little stable housing growing up, often moving from relative to relative or living in cars. He and his sisters experienced and witnessed sexual and physical abuse. Since he was a young child, he had a history of hiding and running away.”

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Justice Paul Thissen

Thissen said H.B. never received any trauma-informed treatment that would be necessary for a child who experienced nine of the 10 adverse childhood experiences recognized by mental health professionals. Though he noted the court cannot repair the damage dealt to Markey’s family, Thissen argued that the decision was disregarding state statutes that handle accused juvenile offenders and “giving up on H.B.”

“The juvenile court issued a thorough and balanced 30-page order setting forth its reasons for concluding that public safety would not be served by certifying H.B. for adult criminal prosecution,” he wrote. “Here, the [Supreme Court] chooses to ignore our deferential standard for reviewing the findings and decision of the juvenile court and instead imposes its own preference for the outcome.”

Though it’s unclear what comes next for H.B., as proceedings prior to the high court’s decision were held under seal as per Minnesota law, court documents indicate that, if convicted, H.B. could be sentenced to serve 306 months for aiding and abetting second-degree murder and an additional 48 months for first-degree burglary.

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A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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