In a rare move, a Hennepin County judge rejected a negotiated plea agreement that would have spared a defendant prison time for his role in a deadly attempted carjacking in Minneapolis more than four years ago.
District Judge Michael Burns said Monday that he didn't find 20-year-old Husayn Braveheart particularly amenable to probation, as attorneys on both sides had argued throughout the three-hour court hearing. Burns ordered the case for trial unless another agreement is reached by a Dec. 14 hearing.
The decision sent a shockwave through the family of Steven Markey, a 39-year-old paralegal from Plymouth who was killed the afternoon of June 11, 2019.
"I'm feeling hopeful that perhaps we'll have some prosecution and they will actually prosecute this case sincerely and not just fold up and be defense attorneys," Markey's mother, attorney Catherine Markey, said after the hearing. "I'm very proud of Judge Burns ... I'm thankful to have people like him on the bench in Hennepin County."
On the day of the crime, Braveheart, then 15, and co-defendant Jered Ohsman, then 17, drew semiautomatic pistols at Markey near the intersection of 14th Avenue and Tyler Street NE, charges say. Ohsman told police he ordered Markey out of the vehicle and shot him after seeing him reach for something. Braveheart fired at the vehicle as a bleeding Markey drove off. The teens fled and were arrested after crashing a stolen SUV in St. Louis Park.
In the weeks leading up to the hearing on Monday, Markey's family and supporters had sent letters to Burns asking him to reject the negotiation. The family held press conferences, circulated an online petition and attended rallies outside the courthouse to raise awareness about the plea deal, which they said was an unacceptable outcome lacking accountability.
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, whose office negotiated the rejected deal, has drawn criticism for her handling of murder cases involving teen suspects. She campaigned on treating juvenile offenders differently with a focus on rehabilitation.
Braveheart addressed the court Monday by apologizing to the Markey family and saying that he wants to help with prevention efforts for troubled or disadvantaged youth.
"I take full responsibility for my actions that day and I have no one to blame but myself in this situation," he said. "I can't go back. I wish I could. But the only way I see is forward."
The negotiation for Braveheart to avoid prison went well below the presumptive guideline sentence of nearly 22 years. Ohsman pleaded guilty in 2020 and remains in prison under that sentence.
Prosecutors and Braveheart's public defenders argued Braveheart played a lesser role in the murder because Ohsman admitted to firing the fatal shot. But Burns said Braveheart shot at Markey as he drove away — which endangered the public more considering it was in the city around 5 p.m.
"It appears to me that the parties are both asking me to consider that Mr. Braveheart, because of his development, is both too young, to the point that he makes impulsive decisions … while at the same time asking me to give him credit for making what appears to be, in his mind, an extremely rational decision to only fire at the vehicle," Burns said. "The two of those can't exist in the same space."
He said that Braveheart admitted it was a joint decision to commit a robbery and a joint decision to draw guns and target Markey.
Both teens involved had their cases moved from juvenile to adult court, but it took years of litigation for Braveheart's case to get there. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in November that Braveheart should be tried as an adult, noting Braveheart's prior delinquency cases involving multiple felony and misdemeanor charges. At the time, he had not successfully completed any treatment programs.
Moriarty said she had agreed to a plea negotiation in part because Braveheart had taken well to treatment. After announcing the plea agreement this summer over objections by Markey's family, Moriarty defended the decision by saying how much progress Braveheart had made, and that prison would put all that progress at risk.
She wanted him to instead serve up to one year in the county workhouse with five years of probation, during which he would have had to remain law-abiding; otherwise the court could have imposed the same sentence as Ohsman.
Deputy County Attorney Sarah Davis argued in court and in her motion supporting probation that Braveheart "changed significantly in the 4 ½ years since this murder occurred."
"He has changed from an impulsive 15-year-old boy who was homeless and living on the streets, into a 20-year-old young man who is addressing his PTSD, engaging in treatment, furthering his education, and excelling in programming. The progress Husayn made at the secure residential treatment center where he received services demonstrates his amenability to probation."
Burns, a former prosecutor and probation officer, said while Braveheart agreed to enter two juvenile treatment programs while his case is pending, not all that time was filled with progress. Records show that his treatment has been "punctuated by outbursts, disrespect to staff and other residents, episodes of physical violence and harassment to staff and other residents," he said.
A spokesman for Moriarty issued a statement after Monday's hearing saying the office disagrees with the judge's decision.
"The agreement balanced the possibility of severe punishment with the reality that this young man with a terrible childhood has succeeded when he was finally given access to intensive resources. His responsiveness thus far shows that continued serious treatment gives us the best chance to protect the public in the future. Instead, his treatment would likely end if he goes to adult prison and he would likely come out worse than when he went in. Our proposed sentence acknowledged this reality."
Markey's sister, Susan Markey, who is also an attorney, said the family is grateful Burns rejected the negotiation, which she called "a brave decision."
She was among six relatives to give victim impact statements before Burns announced his decision.
"I know judges don't often reject negotiated pleas," she said to Burns through tears, "but this is the negotiated plea to reject."