A term topping 32 years was handed down to a teenager who was 15 years old when he drove behind a motorist heading home from a St. Paul grocery store and killed her at random with a gunshot to the head.
Melvin D. Williams, of St. Paul, was sentenced as an adult in Ramsey County District Court after pleading guilty to second-degree murder by drive-by shooting in connection with the shooting of 34-year-old Yuliya "Julia" Li on Feb. 16, 2022.
The sentence from Judge Reynaldo Aligada means that with credit for time in custody since his arrest, Williams can expect to serve the first 19 3⁄4 years of his term in prison and the balance on supervised release.
However, a newly created state board would have the power to release inmates who committed their crime as juveniles into community supervision programs such as probation if they have already served at least 15 years.
In 2007, Li moved from Kazakhstan to study at the University of Minnesota, where she earned a bachelor's degree in economics and global studies.
She left the Twin Cities to work in brand management and marketing for General Electric and Procter & Gamble before returning to St. Paul in 2016 to pursue a master's degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas. Li joined H.B. Fuller in a marketing role in July 2017, and she most recently worked as a global business director.
"This tragic and horrific incident left a permanent hole in the hearts of the victim's family, her coworkers at H.B. Fuller and our community," said Dennis Gerhardstein, spokesman for the County Attorney's Office.
Li's husband, Ubong Udoessien, was traveling in his native Nigeria when he learned of her death. Udoessien immediately booked a flight to Almaty, Kazakhstan, to support Li's family and to help arrange for her body to be flown back to the country.
Along with her husband, Li is survived by her parents and her younger sister, who live in Kazakhstan.
According to the criminal complaint, which cited video images and other evidence:
Police were called about 6:40 p.m. to the 1000 block of Payne Avenue in St. Paul's East Side and saw Li slumped over in the driver's seat of her SUV. Officers saw she was shot in the head. Li was pronounced dead at Regions Hospital less than an hour later.
Li had been heading home from a grocery store, where she bought food for a dinner party. Williams' car was behind her SUV and moved closer as she waited to turn left from northbound Payne onto Cook Avenue. As Li started turning, "a muzzle flash from the driver's side" of the car was captured on video. No motive was immediately clear.
Williams sped north on Payne and entered his home in the 1200 block of Hazelwood Street, then soon arrested in Hennepin County.