MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld three consecutive life sentences with the possibility of release for a man who was a teenager when prosecutors say he killed three people in a Minneapolis market in 2010.
Mahdi Hassan Ali originally received a mandatory sentence of life without parole, but his case is one of several in Minnesota that was re-examined after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional.
Because his sentences are consecutive, Ali won't be eligible for parole until he serves 90 years.
Prosecutors said Ali was 17 when he killed three men during a robbery attempt at Seward Market and Halal Meat. He was convicted and sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole in one of the deaths, then given consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole in the other two.
His sentence of life without parole was vacated in 2014 — after the U.S. Supreme Court found that life in prison without parole should only be applied to juveniles in the rarest of cases, and should not be mandatory. He was resentenced in 2016 to life with the possibility of parole, on top of his two existing consecutive life sentences.
Ali's attorneys appealed, arguing that the lower court abused its discretion and the consecutive terms were the functional equivalent of a lifetime with no release. They argued the three life sentences should run together, so he'd be eligible for release after 30 years.
The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed.
The majority found that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue don't address offenders who received sentences with the possibility of release, and they don't squarely address how consecutive sentences should be viewed.
The majority said that absent further guidance, the justices would not apply the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings to cases like Ali's or other juvenile offenders who are sentenced on multiple crimes.
Justice Margaret Chutich disagreed with the majority, saying Ali's sentences should be concurrent.
She wrote that the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court established certain principles, including that children are constitutionally different from adults in their level of culpability and that the most severe penalties can't be imposed on juveniles as though they were adults.
Chutich said those principles should apply to a sentence like Ali's, which she called the practical equivalent of a lifetime in prison.
Leslie Rosenberg, Ali's attorney, said she believes the Minnesota Supreme Court will be proven wrong. She had no comment when asked if attorneys would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said that in Ali's case, the evidence supported a first-degree premeditated murder charge, and the law has to recognize when three people are killed.
"We don't disagree that juveniles have a different capacity to understand," Freeman said, but "we think the Supreme Court has arrived at an appropriate level of care and scrutiny for these horrendous, horrible juvenile killings, and particularly multiple murders."
Wednesday's ruling could affect two other offenders who were convicted of killing multiple victims when they were juveniles.
Brian Lee Flowers, 25, and Stafon Thompson, 26, were 16 and 17 when they were accused of killing a mother and son in Minneapolis in 2008. Both were sentenced to mandatory life without parole.
Flowers was resentenced to two concurrent sentences of life with the possibility of parole, but Freeman's office is appealing, arguing the sentences should be consecutive. The district court was waiting for a decision in Ali's case before proceeding with Thompson's re-sentencing.
"We think that given the nature of the crime, the fact that two people dead, to run (the sentences) consecutively is appropriate," Freeman said.
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