The victim's family wanted a tougher penalty for Abdirahman Abdikarim, but disappearing and recanting witnesses hurt the state's murder case.
Linda Palm's fears came true in a Dakota County courtroom on Monday: The 19-year-old accused of killing her son, a cabdriver, with a screwdriver during a robbery in 2009 was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge than first-degree murder.
Abdirahman A. Abdikarim pleaded guilty to second-degree unintentional murder in the killing of Michael A. Palm Jr., 41.
He had also been indicted for first-degree and second-degree intentional murder, but those charges were dropped because key witnesses against him fell through.
Now he could serve half the time he would have faced.
"Do you know what that means? ... He'll be out killing again!" Linda Palm said before breaking into tears in a courthouse hallway.
Prosecutors "reluctantly" offered the deal because two witnesses disappeared and a third recanted his statement to police, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said Monday evening.
One witness is believed to have fled to Kenya, and another left the state, Backstrom said.
"It's always frustrating when witnesses disappear and we're not able to use all of the evidence initially obtained in a case," he said.
A first-degree murder conviction is punishable by up 30 years in prison. State sentencing guidelines call for 15 to 21 years for second-degree unintentional murder in this case.
Judge Erica MacDonald will decide the sentence Dec. 14.
Defense attorney Earl Gray said he'll ask for an even more lenient sentence of 12 years, given that the property crimes making up Abdikarim's criminal history -- identity theft and auto theft -- were committed around the time of the slaying rather than comprising a long track record of crime.
Linda Palm did not want a plea deal. She and her family wanted the killer to go to prison for 30 years, if not for life.
"We want him to be serving more time, and we're afraid that with good behavior, he'll be out before what they are saying," said the victim's father, Michael Palm Sr. "They didn't lose their son. We lost ours."
Abdikarim told the judge that he and an accomplice were in a stolen car, breaking into other cars, when they came upon the taxi parked in an Apple Valley parking lot before daybreak on Aug. 1, 2009.
He said he opened the driver's door, thinking the taxi was empty, but was "surprised" when the cabdriver woke up in the back seat. A struggle began.
Abdikarim said that he had a screwdriver in his hand that he was using to break into cars and that he began hitting the driver with that hand.
"I didn't think they were stab wounds until I felt the last one go in deeper, and that's when he fell on top of me," Abdikarim said quietly in the courtroom.
The victim's 20-year-old son, Michael Palm III, didn't buy that account. He later said the killer's own father was a cabdriver, and he should have known that the drivers sleep in their taxis at times.
Michael Palm III said he realizes that "situations" can come up for prosecutors.
"It's nice to know he's actually going to prison and he's going to have that sentence on him," the victim's son said. "He had his chance with his life, and he threw it away."
Abdikarim has been held since last December in lieu of $1 million bail.
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017