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Teen who killed Zaria McKeever enters guilty plea; will serve 10-year term

Teen who killed Zaria McKeever enters guilty plea; will serve 10-year term
The teenager who shot and killed 23-year-old Zaria McKeever during a 2022 Brooklyn Park home invasion entered a guilty plea in Hennepin County District Court Friday in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence, the latest development in the case that previously sparked outrage among her family for what they view as a lack of accountability for the juveniles accused of carrying out the shooting.

Foday Kevin Kamara, 17, of Brooklyn Park, pled guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder. He admitted to killing 23-year-old McKeever alongside his older brother at the behest of McKeever’s jealous ex-boyfriend, Erick Haynes, who is slated to stand trial for murder later this year.

Kamara, appearing in a light gray sweatshirt and sweatpants, kept his remarks to Judge William Koch brief, responding “Yes, sir” or “No, sir” until he had to describe what happened in the early morning of Nov. 8, 2022.

“I shot a lady in her apartment,” Kamara said.

McKeever’s family sat silently in the courtroom gallery with straight faces. It wasn’t until afterward when her stepfather Paul Greer stepped outside the courtroom that he broke down into tears.

The family declined to comment and will provide victim impact statements at Kamara’s sentencing May 8. Kamara remains in custody at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center in lieu of $1 million bail.

As part of the plea, state prosecutors agreed to dismiss a second count of and aiding and abetting second-degree murder while committing first-degree burglary with the use of a firearm.

Kamara will spend about eight months at a juvenile detention facility in Red Wing until he turns 18, and then be transferred to the prison in Lino Lakes, Assistant Attorney General Leah Erickson explained to Koch.

The crux of his plea is agreeing to testify against Haynes, who is accused of orchestrating the attack.

Prosecutors have long sought Kamara’s testimony against Haynes, who has a history of violating domestic no-contact orders against McKeever, the mother of his child. In the weeks preceding her death, investigators found that Haynes repeatedly stalked and harassed her, angry that she had starting seeing another man.

In the early morning hours, Foday and John Kamara kicked the front door of McKeever’s boyfriend’s apartment, brandishing a handgun from Haynes, planning to “deal” with McKeever’s new boyfriend. Instead, they confronted McKeever and briefly argued before Foday, then just 15 years old, unleashed a flurry of shots.

Five rounds struck McKeever. Another hit John Kamara in the leg.

John Kamara accepted a plea deal offered by Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty that McKeever’s family denounced as too lenient and called on Attorney General Keith Ellison to take Foday’s case.

Gov. Tim Walz ultimately removed the murder case from Moriarty amid intense public backlash, vowing to seek a harsher sentence for Foday with Ellison prosecuting the case.

In the changing of hands, Erickson voluntarily removed herself from the case in protest of Moriarty’s plea deal. She later joined the Attorney General’s office to see the case through for the victim’s family.

Erickson said that Kamara’s sentence is a downward departure from state guidelines. The presumptive sentence for aiding and abetting second-degree murder is 306 months. Kamara got 130 months.

Moriarty offered the brothers a deal to avoid adult prison and adult certification. John accepted it before Ellison and Walz intervened on Foday’s case

John agreed to serve about a two-year sentence at the juvenile correctional facility in Red Wing and be placed on a form of extended probation that holds an adult sentence over his head until he’s 21.

Violating the terms of his probation could immediately trigger a 150 month — roughly 12-year — prison sentence. At the time, Moriarty argued that the arrangement would provide both brothers more treatment options and be in the best interest of public safety.

Moriarty said last February that incarceration can lead to worse outcomes for teens who often come back out a greater threat to the public. Several national studies confirmed that a teenager who was incarcerated was more likely to end up in prison as an adult, or on public assistance, than one who was not. Confinement also significantly increased a child’s risk for mental health problems as adults, researchers found.

Under the new deal with state prosecutors, Foday Kamara will spend less than six years in adult prison after accounting for time already served. In Minnesota, a person sentenced to prison spends two-thirds of the sentence in custody and one-third under supervision.

“People get more time for selling drugs,” McKeever’s sister, Tiffynnie Epps, told the Star Tribune ahead of Friday’s plea hearing. “No amount of time is enough.”

In a statement Thursday, Moriarty’s office argued that the sentence for Foday Kamara significantly reduces his access to treatment “that is needed for youth who will be out of prison as young men.”

“Our goal in the prosecution of those responsible for Zaria McKeever’s murder was to aggressively seek a conviction and lengthy prison sentence for the adult who orchestrated this horrific crime of domestic violence. At the same time, we sought to hold the two teenagers involved accountable in a way that protected the public and accounted for their age, trauma history, and role in the offense. Unfortunately, today’s plea deal fails to allow Mr. Kamara to complete the treatment that experts said he needed, while allowing him to be released from prison when he is just 23 years old.”

But community activist and retired police sergeant Lisa Clemons pushed back on Moriarty’s plan for the teens who killed a young mother they barely knew.

“I’m still furious that we would have even considered a two year plea deal for him… and I don’t think his brother should have been given a two year plea deal either,” Clemons said. “We have to stop being a city, a state and a county who believes that victims have no value [and] their families have no value.”

McKeever leaves behind a young daughter, ZeNay Dior.

The child, now 2 ½, lives with her grandparents in Arizona. She frequently asks about her mother and demands to see her, family members said. Relatives show her smiling photographs of McKeever and assure the girl that mommy loved her.

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