A Hennepin County jury on Wednesday convicted Joshua Ezeka of murder in the killing of Birdell Beeks, the grandmother whose death two years ago became a symbol of the gun violence plaguing north Minneapolis.
Prosecutors say Ezeka was firing at a rival gang member’s oncoming car in May 2016 when one of the bullets hit Beeks, 58, who was killed while running errands with her 16-year-old granddaughter.
Ezeka, who was 20 at the time and is now 21, was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault. The first-degree murder conviction calls for a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
In a brief statement, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman applauded the jury’s decision. “The verdict brings justice to the family and, just maybe, a gang member will think twice before shooting his gun,” he said. “But there is no joy for us. A wonderful woman is still dead, and a very young man will never be anything but a prisoner identification number.”
Ezeka’s attorneys argued that he feared for his safety when he got a frantic call that a carful of rival gang members was going to shoot up his house. He grabbed his gun, ran outside and started firing wildly at the rival’s gold Toyota Corolla. One of the shots struck Beeks in her minivan as she inched up to the intersection of Penn and 21st avenues N.
Afterward, Ezeka jumped into the waiting car of the friend who called him, Freddy Scott, who they say also belonged to the Low End, a loose coalition of North Side gangs.
Beeks’ death stirred outrage over continuing violence in parts of north Minneapolis, leading to a brief truce between the warring gangs. But eight months would pass before Ezeka was arrested.
Prosecutors countered that it didn’t matter whether Ezeka meant to kill Beeks, only that he intended to kill someone that day.
The jury began deliberating Wednesday after a weeklong trial, and came to the verdict about noon.
The case took a dramatic turn days before Ezeka’s trial was to start. He was overheard on jailhouse phone conversations allegedly threatening Scott, who accepted a plea deal last fall in exchange for his testimony against his co-defendant. In one conversation on Jan. 8, Ezeka told his cousin Denzel Fields that he had obtained police records showing that Scott was cooperating with authorities, according to court filings. Prosecutors said that one of the callers is heard saying, “It’s a green light if I catch shorty in any prison I’m wiping him.”
Four days later, Fields posted the police reports naming Scott as a witness in the case and tagged Ezeka’s Facebook profile, prosecutors say.
Fields, 23, who was later charged with witness tampering, remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail. Fields’ next court date is Feb. 14.