Stephon Shannon hadn't meant to kill a sleeping 5-year-old when he blindly shot up a north Minneapolis home last summer.
What the teenager was after were rival gang members and vengeance, prosecutors said Friday, when Shannon pleaded guilty to second-degree intentional murder for the benefit of a gang in the shooting death of Nizzel George.
The plea from Shannon, the older of two teenage suspects in Nizzel's death, brings some degree of closure in a case that put a glaring spotlight on the problems of youth gun violence and gangs in north Minneapolis. Nizzel was the second of two small children to be killed by stray bullets in their north Minneapolis homes in a six-month period, sparking an outcry from residents, activists and politicians.
Shannon, 17, will be sentenced Tuesday to what's likely to be 28 years in prison, according to Deputy Hennepin County Attorney David Brown, who called it a "very emotional and very difficult case."
"[Shannon] admitted to shooting at the home," Brown said at a Friday afternoon news conference. "He admitted to trying to hit people in the home, although he could not actually see people and he did not intend to hit Nizzel George."
He said the shooting was in retaliation for an earlier gang shooting.
"We got to get to a point and place when they learn how to deal with their conflicts differently than with gunplay," said Rev. Jerry McAfee, pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church.
Shannon and 15-year-old Julian Kijuan Lamar Anderson were accused of firing shots into Nizzel's family's house at 4515 Bryant Av. N. on the morning of June 26.
According to investigators, the shooting was tied to a monthslong feud between two North Side gangs, the Skitz Squad and the Y.N.T.
The day before Nizzel was killed, Anderson overheard two other teenagers at a gas station say he was "from the other side," according to police. Anderson pointed a gun at them. Late that night, somebody fired several rounds into a house on Camden Avenue N. that was known as a Skitz Squad hangout and where Shannon said he lived with the mother of his slain friend Juwon "Skitz" Osborne, 16, who was fatally shot in 2011.
According to an internal police report, the Skitz Squad and the Y.N.T. have clashed on the streets, with shootings and beatings, as well as on social media sites, where threats and insults have been hurled.
"You would certainly hope that the shooting of a 5-year-old would end any more violence between these groups. ... I certainly hope so," Brown said Friday.
MAD DADS president V.J. Smith said community activists are already trying to prepare for summer when children will be out of school and street violence can erupt.
"It just says to us that we have a lot of work to do," Smith said about the case.
It's unknown if the shot that killed Nizzel was fired by Shannon or his accomplice, Brown said.
Shannon was indicted Aug. 9 on four counts of murder. As part of the plea deal, all the other counts will be dismissed at the time of sentencing, Brown said.
The Hennepin County attorney's office announced in October that Anderson would be tried as an adult, but that certification is being appealed, Brown said.
Shannon's guilty plea will be a comfort for Nizzel's family, Smith said. "It's been a lot of pain for that family, so I believe that this is some relief for them," he said.
Terrell Mayes case unsolved
Not every victim's family has been awarded the same sort of solace.
Nizzel's death came six months after Terrell Mayes Jr., 3, was shot and killed inside his home in the 2600 block of Colfax Avenue N. by a stray bullet that ripped into his family home.
On the day after Christmas 2011, gunfire erupted outside the Mayes home and Terrell and his brothers ran for the safety of an upstairs closet. A bullet slammed through the wall and struck Terrell in the head as he climbed the stairs. He died the next day. His killing remains unsolved.
Terrell's mother, Marsha Mayes, has been actively advocating for nonviolence in north Minneapolis since her son's death, and went to the home where Nizzel was killed to comfort his mother, Christina Banks, after Nizzel was shot.
Nizzel's family no longer lives at the home on Bryant Avenue N. On Friday night, no one answered the door at a house listed as the home of Nizzel's father. Family members declined to comment.
Staff writer Matt McKinney contributed to this report. Nicole Norfleet 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet