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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz has taken the rare step of taking a murder case away from Hennepin County prosecutors and handing it to Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Two juveniles, ages 15 and 17, are accused of killing of Zaria McKeever, 23, the mother of a 1-year-old child, in her Brooklyn Park apartment last November at the direction of her ex-boyfriend.

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty had offered the two brothers juvenile plea deals that would spare them lengthy adult sentences in exchange for their testimony against the ex-boyfriend. But McKeever's family objected. Ellison sought to take over the case amid the public backlash, but Moriarty refused.

Keith Ellison
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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Ellison criticized the plea deal at a public event Wednesday. Walz used his legal authority Thursday to give the case to Ellison.

“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,” Ellison said in a statement.

The attorney general typically takes over criminal cases only at the request of local prosecutors. Ellison prosecuted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd at the request of Moriarty’s predecessor.

Moriarty stood by her decision to prosecute the youths as juveniles instead of adults, saying it offered the best chance for rehabilitation, and sharply criticized Ellison.

“Inserting himself in these cases simply because he disagrees with the choice I was elected to make is deeply troubling and should alarm prosecutors across the state,” Moriarty said in a statement.

Timeline: George Floyd's Death, Protests, Riots, Arrests, and Chauvin Trial

It was late afternoon on Memorial Day, 2020 and many Minnesotans had observed the normally active weekend hunkered down because of the growing pandemic.

George Floyd drove to a grocery store in Minneapolis and bought some cigarettes. He was accused by employees of making the purchase with a counterfeit $20 bill and police were called. Floyd was still there in his vehicle when two officers arrived. About 10 minutes later, Chauvin and another officer showed up and the situation began to escalate. Chauvin began kneeling on Floyd's neck as he was facedown on the street. Despite repeated pleas from Floyd and a growing crowd of bystanders to remove his knee, Chauvin continued as if frozen in position with no facial expression. 

After more than 8 minutes, Chauvin finally stood up and Floyd had become unresponsive. An ambulance was called and a short while later, it was reported Floyd was dead.

A video of the incident slowly spread on social media around the state, the country and the world. Viewers literally watched a man slowly die, repeating "I can't breathe." 

The now historic response began the following day.

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