Anthony Sawina was sentenced Monday to 39 years in prison for shooting into a car full of young Somali men and wounding two of them in what many Muslims considered a hate crime.
The sentence, more severe than had been requested by attorneys for either side in Sawina’s trial, was handed down by Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance.
Just minutes before the sentence was read, Sawina, 26, of Lauderdale, had apologized to the Somali and Muslim communities and to the men he wounded. After hearing Quaintance issue the lengthy prison term, however, he shouted, “You people are the real criminals. People are killing each other and they get less time. This is injustice at its finest and you know it.”
After his outburst, deputies moved in to take Sawina away.
On May 11, a Hennepin County District Court jury rejected Sawina’s self-defense argument and found him guilty of nine counts of assault and attempted first- and second-degree murder.
“The evidence showed that [Sawina’s] conduct was reprehensible and shocking,” County Attorney Mike Freeman said after the verdict, adding that he would seek a prison sentence “north of 20 years” for Sawina.
Quaintance’s sentence nearly doubled that prison term. On Monday, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton argued for a 25-year sentence by running some of the sentences consecutively. Sawina’s attorney argued for three years for each of the two bullets that struck the victims, for a total of six years.
Sawina was with a group of friends in Dinkytown about 2:30 a.m. on June 29, 2016, when they saw five Somali men, including one who was wearing traditional clothing for Ramadan.
As the Somalis were getting into a car, witnesses testified, they heard someone from Sawina’s group say “[expletive] Muslims.”
After at least one of the men got out of the car to confront the group, witnesses testified that Sawina said, “I’m saying [expletive] Muslims. What are you going to do about it?”
Sawina pulled out a handgun and pointed it toward the windshield, according to the charges. He walked around to the back of the car and fired at least twice through an open door, hitting two men in the back seat in the legs. Another bullet nearly hit the driver’s head. Sawina did not report the shooting to police. Instead, a witness identified him as the shooter to police, who arrested him about a month later.
At Sawina’s trial, Lofton said, “The defendant made an intentional and premeditated decision to kill the young men in that car.”
He noted that Sawina squared up and aimed before he shot and fired as the car was driving away.
Sawina’s attorney, Murad Mohammad, argued that his client fired after being threatened. Sawina testified that one of the men he confronted before the shooting told him he had a gun permit. After Sawina pulled his gun, he said he saw the driver bend down and believed he was reaching for a gun.
Quaintance, however, explained everything the jury had to have accepted as fact in order to find Sawina guilty on all nine counts.
She pointed out that Sawina and his friends were intoxicated when they confronted the men and that Sawina fled the scene, hid out and looked online for information on DNA and guns.
She talked about his convictions for driving without a license, fifth-degree assault and carrying a pistol without a permit. Quaintance also mentioned that his home, when it was searched, contained a nonworking hand grenade, several guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, making it a “veritable arsenal.”
His act was racially motivated and he endangered the lives of others besides his victim by firing on the street during bar closing time, she said.
“Consequently, this sentence does not unduly exaggerate the criminality of his conduct,” Quaintance said in handing down the sentence of 468 months.
He was given credit for 327 days already served in jail.
Staff writer Brandon Stahl contributed to this report.