Man guilty of attempted murder in shooting of Somali men in Mpls.

Anthony Sawina
Anthony Sawina
Hennepin County Jail

Updated: 5:27 p.m. | Posted: 2:37 p.m.

A jury on Thursday found Anthony Sawina guilty of shooting and wounding two Somali-American men in Minneapolis who were on their way to prayers after playing basketball.

The Lauderdale man was found guilty on all nine felony counts he faced, including attempted premeditated murder.

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

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said jurors made the right decision, adding that the incident could've been much worse.

"This was shooting directly at people who were sitting in a car, defenseless," Freeman said. "We're just glad that the driver himself wasn't hit. Although we understand the bullet went right by his head."

Sawina, 26, had testified that in the early morning hours of June 29, 2016, he was out drinking with a friend at the Library Bar in the Dinkytown neighborhood near the University of Minnesota, 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.

In his closing argument during the trial, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton said Sawina did not meet Minnesota's legal criteria for self-defense.

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.

Sawina's attorney had told the jury the idea that his client planned to try and kill the men was "nuts." But Lofton rebutted, saying 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.

Murad Mohammad, Sawina's attorney, said he's disappointed in the jury's decision and that he thought his client acted in self defense. The verdict was particularly difficult for Sawina's parents, Mohammad said.

"I think right now they're kind of in shock. They're trying to process what's happening," he said.

Mohammad said Sawina will seek leniency from Judge Kathryn Quaintance, and he's planning to appeal the verdict.

County attorney Freeman said he'll seek a sentence of more than 20 years. Sentencing is scheduled for next month.