Despite completing her prison term for manslaughter in the death of her abusive husband, Amreya Shefa remains in the Kandiyohi County jail in Willmar, Minn., awaiting deportation by the Department of Homeland Security.
Her appeals all but exhausted, Shefa's last hope to remain in the United States would be for the state's Board of Pardons to clear her name — something that has not happened since 1984. She'll finally get that chance next week.
"I am asking for my freedom to help other victims of abuse," she said in a statement.
Shefa's case before the board is an unusual one.
Her husband brought her and their two children from Ethiopia to the U.S. in 2012, promising them a better life. Instead, according to court records, her husband, Habibi Tesema, kept her as a prisoner in their Richfield home and repeatedly raped her.
That abuse continued until one night in December 2013, when she fought back and stabbed him 30 times, killing him.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office charged her with murder. But after a bench trial, Judge Elizabeth Cutter dismissed the murder charge and instead convicted her of manslaughter. Though Cutter found that Shefa's husband raped and trapped her in their home, she used excessive force to defend herself.
Shefa, 46, served more than three years at the women's prison at Shakopee and lost parental rights to her children, whom she hasn't seen in more than five years.
After her release in September, Shefa was immediately detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which moved to deport her to Ethiopia due to the manslaughter conviction.
Shefa and attorneys with Legal Aid and the University of Minnesota have gone to court to try fight that deportation, arguing that she will be marked for death by her husband's family if she goes back to her home country.
The immigration courts have continually sided with ICE, though a federal court of appeals issued a temporary stay of her removal.
Her only chance at freedom is getting a full pardon, which hasn't been granted in Minnesota since 1984.
The Board of Pardons is made up of three people — the governor, attorney general and chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, who have to unanimously approve a pardon. Last year the board denied her pardon application.
This year's version of the board, Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and Minnesota Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, will meet on June 25.
The board could either vote to deny her pardon, grant it or push the decision to another meeting later this year.
Linus Chan, Shefa's attorney, made the bid for his client to get a hearing before the board. He declined to comment Monday, but in an interview last March, Chan acknowledged the request is extraordinary, but so are the circumstances of Shefa's case.
"A way to remedy this is to force a look at whether this conviction was just," said Chan, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Law. "This is our client's life. It's her children, her family. A pardon is understanding and correcting what happened."
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, whose office charged Shefa with murder, said in March that the county would likely oppose any pardon for a serious crime. Also opposing the pardon will be family members of Tesema, who don't believe he raped or mistreated his wife.
"She is very dangerous," said Ahmed Elphato, the brother of Tesema.
Asked what she'll say to the pardons board, Shefa replied: "Thank you for this opportunity. Please, please, please forgive me."
Brandon Stahl • 612-673-4626