Perspectives from Within
The following commentary was made possible through a partnership with Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
Countless Minnesota citizens, including myself, have been swallowed up and incarcerated under a draconian law—Minnesota’s aiding and abetting [609.05] statute. The aiding and abetting law can be an extension of any law, including Minnesota’s felony murder statute, which essentially holds a person liable and responsible for the actions of another.
Currently, I am imprisoned under Minnesota law for aiding and abetting a first-degree murder conviction. The law demands a mandatory minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole, with no sentencing discretion left to the judge.
Perhaps the judge who sentenced me would have sentenced me to some time in prison, but not life without parole. “My hands are tied,” were his exact words—he had to follow the Minnesota statute. It should be noted that the judge who oversaw the trial, and who would be best suited to adjudicate the sentence I should be given, was limited in his power.
One can imagine how effective the blanket, “catch all” sentencing guidelines are under Minnesota statute 609.05 for prosecutors. When a district attorney doesn’t have to prove who actually committed the crime, they can charge everyone in the hopes that intimidation and manipulation will turn co-defendants against one another.
In 2004, at the age of 22, my own personal experience with statute 609.05 began. Investigators, the district attorney, and the Minnesota attorney general were unable to get me to cooperate and testify against my friends and family.
Today, I am a 40-year-old man who has spent nearly two decades in prison after being convicted of aiding and abetting the death of a man. The bottom line is, I never murdered anyone. Do I deserve a chance at freedom? Is this justice?
In 2019, one of my friends who was convicted in the case was paroled after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed sentencing juveniles to life without parole was unconstitutional. Still, I remain in prison without the possibility of parole, while another person convicted in the case died while in prison.
Along my journey I have never given up hope that I will be granted release, nor will I give up hope. Behind these prison walls and barbed wires fences, I continue preparing myself with tremendous ambition, skills and accomplishments for what I hope is my eventual release.
In my time here at Rush City, I have taken carpentry and paralegal courses, college studies, and taken up countless self-help programs. I have even published my first book, a memoir of my time here in prison. I am now an author, a mature, educated man, a brother, a son, and an uncle. I believe I deserve a second chance at freedom.
I am one of many men inside here who have gained maturity from experience. From great adversity comes even greater strength. I implore the powers that be to consider the repeal of the Minnesota aiding and abetting laws that affect many men incarcerated in Minnesota prisons.
I am not suggesting that those who are involved in a crime should not take accountability for their actions or walk free without any punishment, but rather receive a sentence that fits their role. Is 20 years in prison a sufficient price to pay for aiding and abetting felony murder?
This fall will mark 19 years in prison for a crime in which the principal has been granted parole because sentencing a juvenile to life without parole was deemed unconstitutional.
I have tremendous potential to help my community once released with the tools and skills to succeed as a tax-paying citizen, as well as my brethren prisoners who have essentially grown up in prison. The aiding and abetting laws need revision.
Currently, there is legislation that would reform Minnesota’s felony murder laws. For more information, and to connect with advocates, contact the Felony Murder Law Reform Minnesota (#FMLR) through the organization’s website, fmlr.org.
Keith Hapana Crow writes from the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Rush City.
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Read details of the crime in the author’s appeal here;
A fight broke out at a drinking party organized by the author. Witnesses testified Crow pushed, punched and kicked the victim. At Crow’s direction, others at the party wrapped the victim in a blanket and put him in the back of a vehicle. The victim was heard moaning on the way to the river. Crow and others dragged him to the river and threw him in. The next day Crow died his hair. He and another traveled to Seattle.
The medical examiner testified that the victim died as a result of 15 stab wounds.
The author actively participated in the murder. He knowingly helped throw an injured man in the river. In this article he minimizes his involvement. Justice for the victim requires and the safety of society is served by this long sentence for this crime.