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Trial for shooting of Somali men in Dinkytown off to jury

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Anthony Sawina
Anthony Sawina
Hennepin County Jail

After about a week's worth of testimony, a jury of nine women and three men will decide the fate of 26-year-old Anthony Sawina, who faces nine felony counts including attempted first-degree murder. 

The trial included testimony from eyewitnesses — including the two men Sawina shot — and from Sawina himself, who said he shot the men in self-defense.

Sawina testified that in the early morning hours of June 29, 2016, he was out drinking with a friend at the Library Bar in Dinkytown, according to a court transcript. They left the bar around 2 a.m. with some others and started walking down the street.

Sawina said he saw two Somali-American males walking down the street, but didn't say anything to them. 

A few of the Somali American men testified that they heard someone yell, "f--- Muslims," though they didn't know if it was Sawina.

On the witness stand Sawina denied using the slur. However, a woman walking near Sawina and the others, Britta Quist, testified that he did. And Quist remembered being so upset by the comment that she turned around and went home.

Sawina, who is white, said a car with several Somali-American men pulled up and one of them starting yelling at Sawina and his friend Jacob Johnson, also white.

"They had their windows down and they were yelling towards mine and Jacob's direction saying things about, 'What's wrong with you racists? Get over here, come talk to us. What have you got to say?' Those kinds of things," testified Sawina. 

Sawina said the men in the car were the aggressors and he didn't know why they were angry.

"Well, then the driver, at one point during the discussion had said, 'Don't f--- with us. I have a permit to carry,'" testified Sawina.

Minneapolis police Sgt. Luis Porras testified that the driver, Abdirahman Hassan, does not have a permit to purchase or carry a gun in Minnesota. He said no gun was found in the car that night.

After passenger Hanad Abdi got out of the car, Sawina drew his gun. Abdi turned and ran. Sawina testified that he would not fire until he felt threatened. Then he saw the driver, Hassan, duck his head below the steering wheel and two rear car doors open.

"I was worried that the driver of the vehicle had a gun that he was going to pull out and shoot at me or possibly give to somebody else to shoot," Sawina told the court.

In his closing argument, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton said Sawina did not meet criteria for self-defense according to Minnesota law. 

Lofton said Sawina escalated an already tense situation by walking up to a car with several men who appeared to be angry, then "poured gasoline on the fire" by repeating the "f--- Muslims" slur and asking, "What are you going to do about it?" 

Sawina didn't call 911 that night or later to report that he'd used his gun in self-defense. And Lofton pointed out that investigators searched his phone and found that the day after the shooting, Sawina was googling about how long DNA remains on shell casings. And Lofton said it was telling that Sawina didn't make his claim during jailhouse phone calls with his parents or friends.

Jurors will consider two counts of attempted first-degree murder — premeditated — for the wounding of Hussein Gelle and Abdullahi Aden, as well as two counts attempted second-degree murder for the same two men. The rest are second-degree assault charges that pertain to all the men including Abdullahi Mohamed Yusuf, who ran from the car before the shots were fired. 

For the most serious counts, jurors will have to decide if the state presented enough evidence to convince them that Sawina had premeditation.

In his closing remarks, Murad Mohammad said the idea that Sawina planned to try and kill the men is "nuts." But Lofton rebutted, saying premeditation doesn't require planning. He said premeditation can occur in a short period of time — as in the time it took him to walk up to the car while he carried a loaded .380 caliber handgun and an extra magazine in his pocket.