A 24-year-old Minneapolis man pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to throwing a 5-year-old boy over a third-floor balcony at the Mall of America in Bloomington last month.
Emmanuel D. Aranda entered the plea to one count of attempted first-degree murder in Hennepin County District Court during what is typically an early, procedural hearing.
Under terms of the plea deal, Aranda will serve 19 years in prison for the April 12 attack on the Woodbury boy, who survived the fall but suffered bleeding from the head, massive head trauma and fractures in his arms and legs.
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit with his hands clasped behind his back, Aranda calmly answered questions from his attorney, Paul Sellers, about the incident, agreeing that he planned the attack and “dropped” the boy 40 feet over a railing.
“… You did that with the intent of killing that child?” Sellers asked.
“Yes,” said Aranda, who showed little emotion throughout the proceeding.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Cheri Townsend was quick to underscore the seriousness of the crime when she had an opportunity to intervene in questioning Aranda.
“… You didn’t just drop him, but you threw him over the railing, correct?” she asked.
Aranda agreed that he threw the boy, who is named Landen.
The motive for Aranda’s actions was not addressed in court. But the criminal complaint said he went to the mall that day “looking for someone to kill” because he was angry that women at the mall had rejected his attempts to talk with them.
He said he planned to kill an adult because they usually stand near the balcony, but he chose the boy instead, the complaint said.
Aranda’s mother, Becky Aranda, said after Tuesday’s hearing that her son doesn’t “need to be in jail,” adding that “he’s really sick.”
She declined to divulge her son’s mental health diagnosis, but she said he has medical records from Chicago that are pertinent to his case.
But, she said, Aranda refused to meet with family members while he was in jail and refused to sign consent forms to release his mental health records.
“We have not gotten a chance to really speak with him,” Becky Aranda said. “There’s nothing else we can do about that.”
Boy continues to heal
Townsend said her office conferred with the boy’s family and they supported the plea deal. State sentencing guidelines recommended a term of between 13½ and 19 years in prison for Aranda, she said. The statutory maximum term for the crime is 20 years.
Kathy Tunheim, acting as a family spokeswoman, said Tuesday that the family had no comment on Aranda’s plea or the case.
“The child continues to heal and the family asks for continued prayers and privacy,” said a statement posted Monday on Landen’s GoFundMe page.
Under questioning by Sellers, Aranda said he was not receiving mental health care in jail and was not under the influence of drugs, alcohol or mental health issues at the time of the offense.
Aranda’s behavior grew alarming in the days leading up to the mall attack, his mother said Tuesday.
Behavior said to escalate
According to Becky Aranda: Emmanuel Aranda appeared at his sister’s home three days before the incident and shoved her, which he had never done before.
The sister called police. It’s unclear which jurisdiction was involved.
“She immediately called the police and explained to the police about his mental situation and that they needed to locate him immediately before he did something else drastic to somebody else,” Becky Aranda said. “They never located him. Three days later we read on the news that he had [thrown] this little boy over the balcony.”
Becky Aranda said she and her family were “really shocked” by the attack.
“We had no idea that his illness [would drive] him to doing this,” she said.
She said her family is keeping Landen and his family “in our prayers. Our heart goes out to baby Landen.”
After the sentencing, Sellers said that Aranda was mentally competent to understand the legal proceedings against him and chose to plead guilty. If Aranda wanted to raise issues about his mental health at the time of the crime, he would have had to raise them at trial, Sellers said.
A “Rule 20 assessment” in Minnesota examines a defendant’s competency to understand the charges against them and to participate in court proceedings, not their mental state at the time of the incident.
Aranda previously had a case assigned in Criminal Mental Health Court.
“It was his decision to plead guilty,” Sellers said. “I can ensure that his rights are upheld and that he gets the best deal possible, and if he wants to enter a plea, I want to facilitate that.”
Sellers said that because of attorney-client privilege, he could not address whether Aranda is remorseful for his actions or why he allegedly refused to meet with his family. Aranda did not express remorse at his guilty plea, which is not unusual. Such sentiments are typically reserved for sentencing.
Prison or commitment
The state’s system fails to address defendants like Aranda, Sellers said, who may need something other than prison or commitment to the St. Peter Minnesota Security Hospital, which houses dangerous people with severe mental health disorders.
“I wish that there was a better alternative to the dichotomy of either being sent to St. Peter for an indefinite time or going to prison,” Sellers said.
According to the criminal complaint against Aranda: Surveillance video showed him walking on the third floor and looking over the balcony several times before approaching the boy and his mother.
The boy’s mother told police that she and her son were with a friend of hers and her friend’s child outside the Rainforest Cafe when Aranda approached them.
She said Aranda came very close to them; then, “without warning, Defendant picked up the Victim and threw him off the third floor balcony,” the complaint said.
Landen is hospitalized but is alert and conscious and no longer in critical condition. His family issued a statement two weeks ago saying that its focus was on “additional surgeries, healing, rehabilitation and eventually a return home, which we hope will happen by June.”