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Bill to limit liability for felony murder charges advances in house

University of Minnesota Associate Professor Perry Moriearty testifies in favor of HF 1406 (via MNHouseInfo on YouTube)

A bill that would reduce sentencing for unwitting accessories to felony murder has advanced in the Minnesota House. Advocates for HF 1406 say the current law punishes people who had no intention of doing harm.

At issue is a law known as “Felony Murder.” Under current Minnesota law, a person who causes the death of another while committing a felony can be sentenced with murder even if they had no intent to do any personal harm. Under current law, an accomplice to the felony will also be charged with murder, even if they were not directly involved.

For Kevin Reese, Founder of Until We Are All Free, this is a personal battle. Reese participated in a robbery when he was a teenager, and one of his accomplices ended up killing someone.

“I give my life to being an active servant in my community because of that day. I could never have that intent in my heart. I was just 18, lost, a new father. I had no one and had to figure it out. But I never imagined somebody’s life would be lost.”

Reese faced murder charges and accepted a plea deal of 22 years in prison. He says his murder sentence follows him to this day, creating barriers in his life and affecting how people view him.

Reese’s story isn’t uncommon. According to Representative Cedrick Frazier (DFL- New Hope), 48% of those charged with felony murders are Black, 80% are from communities of color, and 56% are under the age of 25.

“This can give us an opportunity to do some healing. This affects entire generations” says Reese.

Reese has been deeply involved with the work of Felony Murder Law Reform, a Minnesota based organization advocating for legal reform. Reese believes in FMLR’s mission, which is to hold guilty only the person who committed the murder or a person who acted as an accomplice with the intent to kill.

“I now have a daughter on the way, so I went to go set up life insurance because it is important to me to leave something for my family, but they saw on paper that I am a murderer and let me know that it would be hard to find a company to assist me and that if so, I would have to pay more expensive fees. My heart was broken. I am not my 18-year-old mistakes. And I’m definitely not a murderer.”

The bill now advances to the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee.

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