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Orchestrator of Zaria McKeever’s Murder Sentenced to Life in Prison

In a crowded courtroom filled with intense emotions, the man who masterminded the home invasion and murder of his former girlfriend by two teenage brothers was handed a life sentence on Friday. This marked the conclusion of the most recent chapter in a case that sparked outrage among family members and the community, leading to intervention by Gov. Tim Walz.

Erick Haynes was sentenced for first-degree intentional murder in connection with the tragic death of 23-year-old Zara McKeever, less than two weeks after the incident. Haynes, aged 23, faced indictments on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aiding and abetting second-degree murder in the killing of McKeever, who was also the mother of his child. The additional murder charges were dropped during sentencing, with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

As Judge William Koch delivered the sentence, McKeever’s relatives witnessed the proceedings, sharing tearful victim impact statements. Her mother, Maria Greer, vividly described the heartbreak of discovering that the man who once referred to her as “Mom” had orchestrated her child’s tragic demise.

“Zaria certainly did not deserve such a cruel fate,” expressed Greer, while a slideshow of McKeever’s images played on a large screen TV nearby. “He was meant to cherish her, care for her,” she added, her voice trembling with emotion. A supporter from the audience interjected, “Protect her!”

Attorney General Keith Ellison observed from the gallery, where numerous supporters wiped away tears.

“Zaria had her whole life ahead of her, snatched away by pure hatred, evil, and jealousy,” lamented McKeever’s elder sister, Tiffynnie Epps. “He is a coward. My sister meant everything to his family, and when he could no longer exploit her, he discarded her.”

Throughout the proceedings, Haynes remained quiet, his gaze fixed downward, avoiding eye contact with those he once considered family. When given the opportunity to speak, he stood and simply stated, “I just wanna say sorry to the family of Ms. McKeever.”

All five individuals involved in McKeever’s murder have now admitted guilt in their roles in the crime or in shielding Haynes afterward.

17, from Brooklyn Park, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder and is expected to face a 10-year sentence. He confessed to the killing of McKeever alongside his older brother, John Kamara, then 17, at Haynes’ direction. Foday, only 15 at the time, fired multiple shots after the brothers forcibly entered McKeever’s boyfriend’s apartment. She sustained five close-range gunshot wounds.

The case was initially handled by Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty before Ellison took over prosecution following pressure from McKeever’s family regarding the perceived leniency of Moriarty’s plea deals for the teens, which spared them prison time. Gov. Tim Walz reassigned the case to Ellison at the family’s urging.

Haynes’ sister and brother-in-law are facing charges of aiding an offender after the fact. Eriana and Tavion James, both 24, conditionally entered guilty pleas shortly after Haynes’ plea on April 1, just before his scheduled trial.

Following a prayer vigil at Shiloh Temple in north Minneapolis, where 25 supporters gathered to commemorate the young mother’s life, Haynes’ sentencing took place. Family members held framed photos, wore pins with McKeever’s image, and reflected on their arduous journey towards justice over the past 16 months.

While the family desired lengthier sentences, especially for the juveniles involved in the shooting on November 8, 2022, they expressed gratitude to the Attorney General’s office for pursuing the case and securing stricter penalties for all parties linked to the home invasion.

“These outcomes are something we can accept,” remarked Paul Greer, McKeever’s stepfather. He and Maria are now tasked with raising their 2 ½-year-old granddaughter, Zanay-Dior, who is growing up without her parents.

“We can’t fill the void left by her mother, but we can shower her with the love her mother would have wanted,” he added.

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