Occasionally, a legal opinion from the Minnesota Supreme Court brings an absolute head-shaking moment from the reader. Today’s decision on the appeal of a murder conviction of a gang member in Minneapolis is one such occasion.
The legal underpinnings and the decision (.pdf) surrounding the killing during the Juneteenth celebration in 2007 are almost secondary to the narrative of gang members’ disregard for human life. Certainly that doesn’t come as a surprise, but it assaults the senses nonetheless.
Kirk Harrison (“Kirk”) shot and killed Brian Cole from an SUV driven by (Lincoln Lamar) Caldwell. Both Caldwell and Kirk were members of the LL gang, which was engaged in an ongoing rivalry with the One-Nine gang. Cole was not a member of a gang, but he was standing near members of the One-Nine gang when Kirk shot him.
On the day of the murder, Caldwell drove an SUV with five passengers, including Kirk. According to the trial testimony of Kirk’s brother, Carnell Harrison (“Carnell”), who was also a passenger in the SUV that day, Caldwell handed a gun to Kirk.
Later, while Caldwell was driving the SUV in north Minneapolis, the group recognized members of the One-Nine gang in a crowd of 10 to 20 people. Caldwell drove around the block, parked the SUV, and then either Caldwell or Kirk said, “we can catch them over there.”
Each member of the group, except Carnell, walked toward the crowd. Carnell assumed that Caldwell and Kirk were going to “shoot at [the One-Nines].” A few minutes later, the group of men returned to the SUV, at which point Caldwell and Kirk were arguing. Kirk said, “[y]ou should have took the shot,” and Caldwell responded, “it was too crowded.”
Caldwell then drove the SUV around the block again. Another passenger, William Brooks, testified that Caldwell and Kirk had remarked that members of the One-Nine gang had shot at them previously and that they “were going to get them.”
According to Brooks, Caldwell then passed a gun to Kirk. Other witnesses testified that, at some point, a passenger in the SUV pointed out the One-Nines, who were standing in a group of people.
Caldwell then drove toward the group. When the SUV was near the One-Nines, Kirk leaned out of the window and attempted to fire the gun. Initially, the gun did not fire because of the safety mechanism.
Once Kirk disengaged the safety, he fired six or seven shots into the crowd, one of which hit Cole and killed him. Caldwell and his passengers fled the scene in the SUV.
Before Cole’s funeral, Caldwell encountered one of Cole’s friends, who wore a t-shirt printed with an image of the newspaper article reporting Cole’s death. Caldwell told the friend, “I’m the reason why you got that shirt.”
Later, Caldwell told an associate that he originally thought that the victim of the shooting was a member of the One-Nine gang with whom Caldwell had a particularly strong rivalry. Referring to killing Cole, Caldwell stated, “we shouldn’t have did it. . . . Dude was a nobody.”
Caldwell was convicted of murder as a gang member, sentenced to life without parole, but appealed the conviction, offering statements that witnesses against him lied. But a court rejected the appeal without holding a hearing on Caldwell’s evidence.
The Minnesota Supreme Court today said the court should have held a hearing. Writing for the majority of justices, Justice David Stras said Caldwell didn’t know a crime would be committed as he drove gang members around.
The decision, which split justices appointed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, ordered a hearing be held that could reverse his conviction.
That angered Justice Christopher Dietzen, who noted that there were plenty of other witnesses who haven’t recanted. His dissent, joined by chief justice Lori Gildea, a fellow Pawlenty appointee to the court, provided even more insight into a gang’s world.
Collectively, these witnesses established the following facts. Caldwell and the shooter were members of a street gang that “ha[d] a problem” with the “One-Nine” gang.
When Caldwell and his group stood on the corner of Eighth Street and Penn Avenue talking with some girls, one of the girls said, “[H]ere come the One-Nines, you all better leave,” and they observed a large group of One-Nines approaching on foot. Because Caldwell and his group were outnumbered, they fled one block west along Eighth Street and climbed into Caldwell’s SUV.
Meanwhile, the One-Nines had turned east on Eighth Street.5 Caldwell drove east along Eighth Street. Moments later the shooter shouted, “[T]here go the One-Nines.” Caldwell then drove slowly past the One-Nines as the shooter fired several shots. Immediately after the shooting, Caldwell sped away without saying anything or otherwise expressing surprise that the shooter had fired on the One-Nines.
A few weeks after the shooting C.P. overheard Caldwell bragging about killing the kid on Eighth and Penn.10 More specifically, C.P. told police that Caldwell “was bragging about shooting a dude saying that he shouldn’t have shot him because he was just a nobody, just a plain basketball kid.
“When trouble came, my son went the other way,” his mom, Carol Turner, told the Star Tribune after the trial. “He’s not into that.”
What was he doing on the corner? He was taking shelter from a rainstorm during the celebration.
When he died on the street in Minneapolis, he was somebody.
From the archive: North Minneapolis mentor is a “mother on a mission” (MPR News).