The Minnesota Supreme Court found that a teenager should be tried as an adult for allegedly aiding in a deadly shooting as part of a string of robberies when he was 15.
Justices made the ruling Wednesday when prosecutors filed charges in adult court of aiding and abetting second-degree murder against Husayn Braveheart, now 19, in connection to a June 2019 attempted carjacking in northeast Minneapolis that resulted in the fatal shooting of Steven Markey, 39, of Plymouth. Braveheart is in custody ahead of his first court appearance Friday.
Braveheart was initially charged in juvenile court with first-degree aggravated robbery and aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Prosecutors filed to try him as an adult, but the district court denied the motion, saying that the circumstances of the case did not meet the necessary factors to move it out of juvenile court. The prosecution appealed, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with the state before the Supreme Court heard the case.
Justice Natalie Hudson wrote in a 34-page majority opinion that the appellate court was right to find the district court incorrectly ruled Braveheart's trauma from lifelong instability in child protective services made him less culpable. Instead, Hudson wrote "that retaining [Braveheart] in the juvenile system would not serve public safety."
Braveheart's long history of juvenile programming has been unsuccessful, she wrote, due to his unwillingness to meaningfully participate and worsening behavior after each program. That, coupled with a lengthy juvenile detention history of felony and misdemeanor charges, arrest warrants and probation, weigh in favor of adult certification, Hudson said.
Three justices concurred with Hudson, but not without concern. Justice Anne McKeig underscored the "foster care-to-prison pipeline," with 90% of foster children coming into contact with the juvenile justice system, suggesting the system is flawed and calling for legislative action.
"[W]e are at a crossroads for how we deal with some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society," McKeig wrote.
Hudson said determining adult certification centers on culpability and the level of a child's participation in planning and carrying out the offense.
Braveheart said he was armed with a 9mm Glock and his accomplice, who was 17 at the time, carried a .22 caliber Ruger. They wore bandanas to hide their faces, searched for a car to steal and targeted Markey.
The investigation found that days before the shooting, the pair committed two other carjackings and afterward committed more burglaries. Within 12 hours of the shooting, they were arrested in a stolen car they crashed while fleeing police.
Braveheart's accomplice, Jered Ohsman, was tried as an adult and admitted to firing the lethal shot. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
When a hearing took place over nine days to determine if Braveheart should also be prosecuted as an adult, Hudson said that the adult certification study noted Braveheart is fully culpable. A probation officer in their testimony stated: "The adequacy of punishment or programming in the juvenile system is immensely disproportionate to the gravity of the offense in this case ..."
Expert witnesses testified that the juvenile system would be best for Braveheart, who had nine of the 10 adverse childhood experiences recognized by mental health experts along with PTSD.
Hudson said the district court improperly relied upon U.S. Supreme Court precedent on child brain development to support mitigating factors outside sentencing guidelines instead of focusing on Braveheart specifically.
Despite the district court finding that Braveheart was fully culpable, it was persuaded by academic and and scientific research that weighed against assigning full culpability. Hudson said this was a clear error given the extensive evidence and public safety factors that favor adult prosecution.
Justice Paul Thissen wrote a 49-page dissent that said he supports juvenile treatment for Braveheart, not adult prison.
Thissen's dissent noted that Braveheart grew up on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. His mother has been an addict and his father has been incarcerated Braveheart's entire life. When he was 6, child protective services placed him in foster care, but he was often on the run.
"The child protection system and our community bear some responsibility for [Braveheart's] circumstances," Thissen said.
Facing a presumptive sentence of 12½ years or more in adult prison will not repair the damage, Thissen said, because Braveheart wouldn't receive trauma-informed treatment. Legislators, he wrote, decided decades ago that "our state would not give up on children under the age of 16 who commit serious crimes except in very rare circumstance."
Thissen wrote that the statutory presumption against adult certification used to apply to anyone under 18. But in 1994, a rise in serious juvenile crime shifted the burden of proof from prosecutors to juveniles 16 and older, "making it easier to certify those older children for adult proceedings," he wrote, leading to the creation of extended juvenile jurisdiction (EJJ).
EJJ allows juvenile court to retain jurisdiction over teens age 14 to 17 who have committed a felony until they are 21. Thissen said EJJ is "one last chance" for serious youth offenders.
"It reflects the longstanding and broadly accepted understanding that children — even children who have committed serious crimes — are still maturing and should have a chance at rehabilitation," he wrote. "[And] that the state should provide such rehabilitation in an age-appropriate setting if possible, and that children are too vulnerable for the adult system."
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.