Citing Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty's personal conflict of interest, her office has removed itself from the resentencing of a man convicted as a teenager in connection with the brutal slaying of a mother and her young son 15 years ago.
An internal staff memo recently obtained by the Star Tribune and jail call logs reveal that Moriarty counseled Brian Lee Flowers, 31, before court hearings regarding his resentencing. The discussions occurred before her campaign to become the county's top prosecutor.
Senior Assistant County Attorneys Brittany Lawonn and Nicholas Linstroth explained in the memo that it is insufficient to screen the case from Moriarty because she "established an attorney-client relationship with [Flowers] prior to her election." The memo urged that the case be moved from Hennepin County.
"In jail call recordings, [Flowers] relayed that [Moriarty] had been a member of his 'team' for more than a year and had 'grilled' him for several hours in the days immediately prior to [an] evidentiary hearing conducted May 2021, three months before she announced her candidacy for this office," according to the memo issued April 11. Lawonn and Linstroth added that if Moriarty or someone she designates "retains decision-making authority in this case, we respectfully request the case be reassigned within the office."
Flowers and his co-defendant, Stafon Thompson, were given consecutive life sentences for the 2008 slayings of Katricia Daniels, a young mother stabbed nearly 200 times, and Robert Shepard, her 10-year-old son stabbed 30 times and bludgeoned with a television in a south Minneapolis duplex. Flowers was 16 at the time; Thompson was 17.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles without parole are unconstitutional. Flowers was eligible for resentencing and his case came back to Hennepin County District Court in 2015, with years of legal back and forth between prosecutors who wish to keep Flowers incarcerated, and Flowers' attorney, who maintains he was less culpable in the killings and should be eligible for eventual release.
Prosecutors asked leadership in Moriarty's office to reassign the case, pointing to the jail calls as evidence of the conflict. The office announced Tuesday in a statement to the Star Tribune that Ramsey County Attorney John Choi has agreed to take the case.
"Actual or potential conflicts of interest that aren't addressed can often be a reason the public loses confidence in government officials," said Hennepin County Attorney's Office spokesman Nick Kimball.
Flowers had a hearing slated for Tuesday, but it was postponed because of the shift to Ramsey County.
It's common practice for county attorneys to share case responsibilities, Kimball said, "to manage actual and potential conflicts." Flowers' case presented a conflict because of Moriarty's past work as a criminal defense attorney. He said that Moriarty was screened from the case since taking office and leadership discussed the conflict before the memo.
Choi's spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein said in a statement that they know very little about the case and intend to ask for more time "so that we can properly represent the State's interest in this case to do justice, whatever that might require, without fear or favor."
Jail call transcripts filed Tuesday gave more insight into Moriarty's attorney-client relationship with Flowers, who was celebratory when Moriarty defeated Martha Holton-Dimick in the race for county attorney last fall.
"Once I seen Miss Mary Moriarty win … it's all good now. … I'm just focusing on us having a healthy baby and me coming home," he told an unidentified listener. "That's it. Everything else is — this jail … is overrated. I've been done with it anyway." He said his situation was taken care of with her taking office.
"She believed in my innocence because she worked on my case. And so, she can't necessarily work on my case right now because she has to recuse herself but her being a boss, she has some say in what goes on in people's cases — you know what I'm saying?"
Flowers' attorney, Perry Moriearty said she and Mary Moriarty — similar names, no relation — were colleagues at the University of Minnesota Law School and consulted on Flowers' case. She said the discussions ended when Moriarty took office.
Moriarty's recusal comes two weeks after Gov. Tim Walz appointed Attorney General Keith Ellison to take over prosecution of a murder case from Moriarty. She offered controversial plea deals to two teens suspected of killing Zaria McKeever, 23, during a Brooklyn Park home invasion last fall. Ellison argued that the pleas fell short of community standards for such a heinous crime.
A brutal and winding case
In June 2008, blood all throughout the south Minneapolis duplex told the tale of a complex murder scene and the prolonged fight Daniels had put up for her life and that of her son.
She tried to blockade herself in the bathroom, leaving a bloody footprint on the back of the door as she lay on the floor, trying to keep out her killer. It didn't work. She was stabbed more than 190 times and nearly decapitated. An autopsy revealed wounds on her arms that indicated she probably tried to fend off her killer. Her son was stabbed, too, but died under the weight of a television pushed against his throat.
No signs of forced entry explained the relationship Flowers and Thompson had with Daniels. They called her "mom" and were friends with her 15-year-old son.
At their first court appearances, Flowers cried, while Thompson appeared stoic. It mirrored their jail house interviews after turning themselves in. Officers found Flowers less culpable. Thompson was the only one with cuts all over his hands.
It's undisputed Flowers was present during the murders. But his trial attorney said there was only one drop of blood on his shoes while Thompson was covered in blood.
A grand jury indicted both of them on four counts of first-degree murder. They were convicted by juries in separate trials.
"I just want to say I'm sorry that I did not stop what happened in that house. I'm just sorry, that's all," Flowers said at his sentencing.
Perry Moriearty said the central issue is whether the sentences should be served concurrently or consecutively. She said prosecutors want 60 years to life served consecutively, meaning Flowers would die in prison. She wants 30 years to life served concurrently. That doesn't guarantee release, but Flowers would be eligible when he's 46.
Moriearty said she hopes the case can finish fairly after eight years of litigating.
There were many delays during that time, including the pandemic and disputes over the use of Flowers' jail call logs.
In at least two calls, Flowers shared legal strategies if the resentencing hearing doesn't work. He talked about potential legislation, commuting or pardoning his sentence, and having it reviewed by Ellison's conviction review unit.
Another option had "something to do with Miss Mary," he said.
Staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.