AG Ellison assigned to handle Zaria McKeever murder case

(ABC 6 News) – Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has intervened in the prosecution of a Hennepin County murder case, assigning the state’s top prosecutor to handle it instead of the county attorney.

Governor Walz exercised his statutory authority to assign Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to the Zaria McKeever murder case in Hennepin County.

This decision comes after Governor Walz received a formal request from Attorney General Ellison. The Attorney General’s request and the Governor’s response are attached here.
“My heart breaks for the McKeever family,” said Governor Walz. “We will not tolerate violent crime in Minnesota.”

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The Governor’s authority to assign a case to the Attorney General is rarely used. The Governor has made clear that he will exercise the authority only if he receives a written request from the Attorney General to prosecute a case.

“I have absolute confidence in Attorney General Ellison,” Governor Walz continued.  “He has requested this important case and stepped up once again to serve the people of Minnesota. I know Keith will work tirelessly to seek justice and bring a modicum of peace to the grieving family.”

Minnesota state statute gives governors the power to request that the attorney general prosecute any person charged with an indictable offense, preside over a grand jury, and otherwise exercise the powers of a county attorney. Under the same state statute, the attorney general may prosecute a criminal case upon request from a county attorney.

The Attorney General’s Office often prosecutes violent crime cases throughout the state and in Hennepin County. In June of 2020, former Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman requested that Attorney General Ellison prosecute former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd. In May of 2021, Freeman again requested that Ellison prosecute former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter for the killing of Daunte Wright.

The Governor recently signed Senate File 33, a bill providing $269,000 in 2023 and $2 million each year thereafter to expand the Attorney General’s Office criminal enforcement team. The additional funds will be used to hire seven additional full-time criminal prosecutors and two legal assistants who will provide needed legal services to county attorneys to prosecute serious violent crimes.

Attorney General Keith Ellison issued the following statement:

My request to Governor Walz to assign the prosecution of this case to my office is one I did not make lightly. I requested that Hennepin County refer the prosecution of this case to my office, as the law provides, but they declined to do so. The Governor’s power under state law to assign criminal cases to the Attorney General has been used and should be used very sparingly, and I do not expect to make a request like it again.

A prosecutor is a minister of justice, and justice is comprised of both accountability and mercy. While I share the belief that too many juveniles are involved in the adult criminal-justice system, accountability for the seriousness of this crime has been missing in this case. I respect that county attorneys are duly elected by their constituents to exercise their discretion; however, the disposition of the juvenile shooter that Hennepin County has proposed in this case is disproportionate to the seriousness of the crime committed and falls far short of the family’s and community’s expectations for justice and safety. My office will pursue justice in all its aspects in the prosecution of this case.