Distraught family members of a woman fatally stabbed during her efforts to save her friends from a robbery attempt in a Minneapolis parking ramp poured out their grief and anger toward the man responsible on Thursday.
Family and friends of Mai Yer Cha spoke of how their lives and that of Cha's 7-year-old son are forever changed because of Benjamin Love, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Love, 44, pleaded guilty last week to second-degree murder in the stabbing in Parking Ramp B near Target Field on July 15, 2017. Cha, 31, of St. Paul, had just celebrated her birthday and was walking with friends to their car after midnight when Love, a violent fugitive in the midst of a crime spree, stabbed her in the heart. She died 11 days later.
Cha's son, Aiden, did not attend the hearing, but he gave a videotaped statement.
"It's not OK to kill my mom," the boy said. "You are going to pay for killing my mom."
Long history in prison
Love, who has spent most of his adult life in prison for violent offenses, stared without expression, not looking at Cha's mother, sisters and friends who spoke haltingly through tears about her death.
Asked by Hennepin District Judge Jay Quam if he had anything to say, Love rose and apologized to Cha's family. He said he was affected by the death of his own mother when he was 13.
"I watched her brains blown out," he said. "I truly apologize."
Cha's mother, Blia Vang Cha, addressed the court through an interpreter.
"I'm so mad and angry," she said tearfully. "He killed my daughter. ... I'll never forget until the day I am deceased."
'Tell Aiden I love him'
Cha's older sister, May Seng Cha, said her sister, a single mother, had been saving money so that her son could go to college.
She said when Love attempted to rob another person in their group in the ramp, Cha stepped forward to stop it when Love knifed her.
"My baby sister died trying to protect her friend from you," May Seng Cha said, looking at Love, who sat at an adjoining table next to his public defender attorney, Lisa Skrzeczkoski. "My family's life has been shattered into a thousand pieces. We'll never be the same again. We'll never be whole again."
Another sister, Ting Cha, said that in her sister's last conscious moments, she thought of her son.
"Tell Aiden I love him," were her sister's last words, she said. "Everything she did was for him."
The harshest remarks came from Cha's friend Daniel Hess, a psychologist with Park Nicollet, who called Love a sociopath and said that any apologies made by Love, given his criminal history, should not be believed.
"The defendant is not human ... he is nothing more than a reptile," said Hess, who added that he believes Love will never change. "Even if he gets out, he will reoffend," Hess said.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Rachel Kraker said that Love spent most of his life incarcerated, including 20 years in prison in Texas for a 1990 conviction for attempted murder and seven years in prison, also in Texas, for aggravated robbery.
He was a fugitive after failing to make a court appearance on a 2016 aggravated robbery charge at the Cedar Riverside light-rail station in Minneapolis when he stabbed Cha.
Love pleaded guilty last week to both that robbery and to the murder, and under the plea agreement, got the 24-year sentence. The six-year sentence in the light-rail robbery case will be served at the same time. He will have to serve two-thirds of the 24 years in prison, before supervised release, if he is deemed eligible.
'Danger to public safety'
Before sentencing, Quam called Love "a danger to public safety" and told the family, "I know each time you come to court there is fresh pain for your loss."
Quam said that 24 years is a "serious sentence," adding: "I understand that nothing I can do is enough."
He said he hoped family members, while remembering Cha, could find a way to move on.
"Hate is a poison that takes joy out of the world," he said.
Turning to Love, he said, "I have seen people change" and urged him to consider a different path forward. "I hope you will choose wisely," Quam said.