Mpls. police confident of convinctions in string of killings

Minneapolis police officials say investigators are working around the clock to solve the killings of three young men over a four-day period.

Homicide investigators are busier this year than last. Less than half way through 2010, the city has already surpassed the number of killings committed in 2009. Police officials say they expect the majority of cases will be solved.

The latest round of violence began last Thursday night when 22-year-old Matthew Deon Johnson was shot in the head near an apartment building in north Minneapolis and later died in the hospital.

A little more than 30 hours later, 29-year-old Phelandis Jackson was gunned down as he stood outside a south Minneapolis bar. And a day later, 16-year-old Andrew Battees was killed by gunfire, also on the city's south side.

Deputy Chief Rob Allen says all three victims were known to the department -- meaning that officers have had previous contact with them. But he didn't comment on possible motives behind the shootings. Allen also wouldn't speculate if the three killings were linked.

But Allen says most homicides follow a pattern in that they are not random.

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"This is a dispute between individuals. And frankly, that's why we're having good success in solving them," he said. "Because it turns out the motive for the crime, after investigation becomes fairly apparent and that's how we figure out who did it."

Allen says it's easier to make a murder case when officers know who the victim and suspected killer know and interact with.

Deputy Chief Allen says each year the department solves between 60 and 80 percent of homicide cases. And he says so far the department has sent half of this year's 24 homicide cases to the county attorney for prosecution.

Allen said to keep up with demand, investigators have taken a break from older unsolved cases to work on current homicides. However, Allen said the department has ample staffing to handle the uptick.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says cases with known connections between victims and suspects are more likely to result in convictions. In 2009, Freeman said, county attorneys brought 28 homicide cases to court. There were only 19 killings in the city last year, but there is a lag time in bringing homicide cases to court. So Freeman says a number of the cases were homicides from past years.

"Of the 28 cases that we had a result in in 2009, 26 of the 28 resulted in a conviction. That's pretty damned good," Freeman said.

Freeman says there are still about 16 homicide cases from last year that are working their way through court. He says he's confident those will also result in convictions.

In the meantime, police officials are asking for help from the public to find suspects in this latest round of homicides.