Two brothers have received prison terms topping eight years for joining with a cousin to carjack and drive a man around the Twin Cities in his own car while trying to drain his bank accounts and threatening to kill him during the hours-long ordeal.
T'Shawn T. Palton, 21, of Minneapolis, was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court to a nine-year sentence while co-defendant Jamal T. Funchess, 18, also of Minneapolis, was given a term of 8 1⁄3 years after they pled guilty to the armed carjacking in Columbia Heights on Feb. 14 during what the victim thought was a meetup for him to buy a smartphone via Facebook Marketplace.
Their cousin, Barry E. Shinaul Jr., who turned 18 last month, "played the most significant role in the offense," read a prosecution court filing ahead of sentencing. "[His] conduct included bringing the gun to the carjacking, pistol-whipping the victim [and] repeatedly threatening the victim with violence, including murder."
In a phone call with the Star Tribune, the carjacking victim said he was content with the length of the sentences and that he hopes the time in prison can act as a turning point in their lives.
"I hope it gives them time to look at their actions, reflect on the paths they're going, and hopefully this will be an event that will have them go in a different direction," said the victim, a 31-year-old Spring Lake Park man who wished to not be named.
He noted that the kidnapping has had long-term effects on him mentally.
"I'm a little less trusting than I want to be because of it," the victim said.
Shinaul, of Columbia Heights, is charged in a juvenile petition with first-degree aggravated robbery and kidnapping in Anoka County District Court. The County Attorney's Office has indicated its intention to have Shinaul, who remains in custody, prosecuted as an adult.
This case is part of an ongoing campaign by U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger to charge all carjacking cases involving adults as federal felonies, which carry tougher potential sentences than in state court.
Attorneys for Funchess and Palton argued for their clients to receive prison terms of no more than five years, well below what ultimately was imposed.
"Here is a young man who was a college-bound senior who raised himself up with little to no family support and made a bad decision," said Thomas Plunkett, Funchess' attorney, in an interview Monday. "He's never even been in the back of a squad car, let alone a jail."
Brian Toder, Palton's attorney, wrote in a presentence filing that his client had an unstable upbringing in Chicago and Minneapolis. Palton's father abused him, and drug and alcohol abuse were common in his home, Toder pointed out.
"In Chicago, he was exposed to crime and violence," Toder wrote. "Gunfire was frequent. He actually saw people being shot in both Minneapolis and Chicago, including two of his friends. While many people can overcome adverse childhood experiences, some are forced to struggle. Mr. Palton struggled and continues to struggle."
Unlike Funchess, Shinaul and Palton have criminal histories, court records show.
Shinaul has three pending cases in Hennepin County involving crimes in north Minneapolis, two of them occurring on successive days: a drive-by nonfatal shooting on Oct. 22, 2021, and an armed robbery of a rideshare driver one day later.
He also stands charged on allegations that he participated in a botched armed robbery in north Minneapolis on Dec. 31, 2021, that ended with the targeted victim fatally shooting 15-year-old accomplice Santana D. Jackson and wounding Shinaul.
In a scenario similar to how the carjacking incident began, the victim told police he had arrived at the 2400 block of N. Dupont Avenue to sell a pair of sneakers to someone he met on Snapchat. The holdup soon unraveled and turned deadly for Santana.
Palton, at age 16, pleaded guilty in Stearns County in 2018 to felony burglary.
According to court documents in state and federal court stemming from the carjacking:
Palton, Funchess and Shinaul posted an advertisement on Facebook Marketplace purportedly to sell an iPhone for $250. The victim responded, arranged to buy the phone and agreed to meet in a Columbia Heights apartment building parking lot near NE. University and 40th avenues, where Shinaul pointed a handgun at their "randomly chosen victim," then hit him with the weapon.
Shinaul, wearing a ski mask, brandished a loaded gun and ordered the man to the backseat of his Kia and drove off with Palton and Funchess, also masked.
They traveled in the car around the Twin Cities for three hours, holding their victim at gunpoint. During this time, they demanded that he surrender his cell phone, wallet, credit cards and banking information.
They attempted to withdraw money from gas stations in north Minneapolis and St. Paul using his cards and stole $40 from his accounts but failed to drain large sums from his Cash App, Venmo and PayPal accounts.
Toward the end of the ordeal, the three discussed what to do with the victim and openly talked about killing him. Eventually, they dropped him on a road in St. Paul and left with his car as he ran to a Holiday gas station in Lilydale to call police.
Later that evening, the man helped law enforcement track down his phone using the Find My iPhone feature, watching the locator stop at an Embassy Suites in Bloomington. Police located his car in the hotel lot, while the phone locator placed it inside the hotel.
Hotel staff said they saw three people matching the descriptions provided by the victim, and also identified a woman with them. Shinaul soon approached officers and said he was with her. Police found a loaded .38-caliber revolver in his pants and found he was wearing the victim's Apple watch after they arrested him.
Officers in the parking lot arrested Palton after a brief foot chase outside, finding the stolen wallet along the way. Funchess was found in the front seat of another car in the parking lot and apprehended.
Star Tribune staff writers Stephen Montemayor and Louis Krauss contributed to this report.