The Minnesota Supreme Court must again determine whether a man who was 16 years old when he fatally gunned down three people during a 2010 robbery at a Minneapolis market deserves a future chance at parole because of his youth when the crime was committed.
The case of Mahdi Hassan Ali, argued before the state’s high court Tuesday, involves the latest challenge to his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that such sentences for juveniles violated the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Ali is one of eight Minnesota killers who were teenagers when they committed crimes that landed them in prison for life, and was the first in Minnesota to have his life sentence vacated.
Ali, who shot and killed three men at the Seward Market in Minneapolis, was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder in 2011 and was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of 30 years for two of the murders, and a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the third. When the state Supreme Court ruled the life sentence unconstitutional and sent the case back to district court, Judge Peter Cahill gave Ali three consecutive 30-year sentences: meaning the 23-year-old would be well over 100 years old by the time he is eligible for parole.
On Tuesday, Leslie Rosenberg, assistant state public defender, argued on Ali’s behalf that Cahill did an end-run around the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling with the consecutive sentences, which in essence constitute a life sentence. She asked the seven justices to overturn all three of Ali’s 30-year sentences.
But Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Jean Burdorf insisted Tuesday that Cahill ruled properly, after taking Ali’s circumstances into account, and delivered a just sentence for his “morally reprehensible” crime.
“One of the goals of criminal justice system is retribution,” she said.
The justices pressed Rosenberg on whether it made a difference that Ali murdered three people as opposed to one, and noted that the high court had yet to consider the matter of consecutive sentences for juveniles.
“The fact that you have more than one victim does not make you a — quote unquote — worse person,” Rosenberg said, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that juveniles can grow and change.
She argued that Cahill made his determination on the sentences without an adversarial hearing required by the U.S. Supreme Court, where attorneys could have presented an analysis of Ali’s life conditions, which included living in a refugee camp and other factors.
However, Burdorf said Cahill had reviewed Ali’s background.
“There was plenty of testimony of his personal history,” she said.
A brief supporting Ali was filed by the Juvenile Justice Center of Philadelphia, arguing that Cahill had not considered age-related factors and intended a life-without-parole sentence.
The center quoted Cahill telling Ali at his original sentencing that, “My imposing consecutive sentence is my message to future generations that you not be considered for release no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the change in the law is.”