By Rochelle Olson
A 33-year-old St. Paul man won acquittal on a first-degree murder charge in the 1999 killing of a man in front of a Minneapolis grocery store.
After nine months in jail in lieu of $2 million bail, Earl Vang left the Hennepin County District Court a free man on Tuesday.
Last year, Vang and Tou Lu Yang were indicted in the murder of Miguel Destiny McElroy in front of a store on the 2300 block of Lyndale Avenue N. on July 9, 1999. McElroy’s father was also wounded in the shooting.
After a trial in front of Judge Tamara Garcia, the jury took less than four hours to acquit Vang. During the trial, defense lawyer Earl Gray strongly questioned the reliability of witness identifications of Vang in police photo line-ups.
"Justice was done and my client was able to go home to see his family," Gray said by telephone on Wednesday.
Vang was indicted only last year because of a twist in the case related to Yang, who was convicted previously of second-degree murder in the death.
In 2014, Judge Bruce Peterson ordered a new trial for Yang based on ineffective assistance of counsel, a new witness statement and new evidence identifying other possible suspects.
After further investigation, County Attorney Mike Freeman won first-degree indictments against Yang and Vang. At the time, Freeman said witnesses “confirmed Mr. Vang was part of the murder.”
But the jury didn’t believe his witnesses.
Freeman expressed disappointment Wednesday. “We would not have prosecuted Mr. Vang if we didn’t think he was guilty. But we respect the jury process and accept their verdict,” he said in a statement.
According to the prosecution, McElroy’s brother met with two men who gave him $60 to buy marijuana. The complaint alleged that the defendants later demanded that McElroy get their money back from his brother.
The complaint said the two men pulled out guns and started shooting.