Crime, Law and Justice

Brooklyn Park man who arranged killing of Zaria McKeever gets life sentence

Family stands before bank of microphones
Tiffynnie Epps, McKeever’s sister, center, speaks to reporters alongside family members at the Hennepin County Government Center following the sentencing of Erick Haynes on Friday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

A judge on Friday gave a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 30 years to a Brooklyn Park man who pleaded guilty in the death of his ex-girlfriend.

Erick Haynes, 23, ordered two teenage brothers to break into the home of Zaria McKeever and kill her new partner, but one of the teens shot McKeever instead.

Gov. Tim Walz directed the state attorney general’s office to prosecute the case after McKeever’s family said a proposed plea deal for the teens from Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty was too lenient.

McKeever, 23, had been in a relationship with Haynes. They had a daughter together, but Haynes became abusive, so McKeever left him and began a relationship with someone else. 

On Nov. 8, 2022 Haynes gave a gun to Foday Kevin Kamara, who was 15 at the time, and ordered the teen and his older brother to, according to prosecutors, “deal with” McKeever’s new partner.

The brothers went to the couple’s apartment in Brooklyn Park and broke down the door. McKeever’s new partner escaped, but Kamara shot McKeever five times, including once point-blank in her head, when she confronted him. The teens fled the apartment in a vehicle that Haynes drove.

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty argued that because the assailants were so young, they’d have a better chance at rehabilitation if they were prosecuted as juveniles and received treatment in a two-year program at the juvenile facility in Red Wing rather than lengthy sentences in adult prison.

McKeever’s family was unhappy with the proposal, and their objections led Gov. Walz to make the rare move of pulling Moriarty off the case and reassigning it to Attorney General Keith Ellison. At the time, Moriarty called the governor’s decision undemocratic.

Kevin Kamara’s brother is in a juvenile treatment program. But in March, Kamara, now 17, pleaded guilty to adult murder charges and is expected to receive an 11-year prison term when he’s sentenced May 8.

At Haynes’ sentencing hearing Friday, McKeever’s mother, father, stepfather, sister and cousin each gave victim impact statements, and described her as a loving and caring young woman and devoted mother to her 2-year-old daughter Zanay. 

“He stole Zaria’s life because of jealousy and anger,” said Maria Greer, McKeever’s mother.

Greer said that Haynes grew close to their family and even called her “mom,” but betrayed them, especially Zanay.

“Every time I hear my granddaughter ask, ‘where’s Mommy,’ my heart aches,” Greer said.

Tiffynnie Epps, McKeever’s older sister, said that the murder was the culmination of Haynes’ escalating abuse and stalking.

“She finally got away from him and moved on and he just couldn’t take it,” Epps said. “He was jealous of Zaria for having a car, having a better family, a home and people who actually loved her.” 

Presley McKeever said he grew increasingly concerned for his daughter after hearing about Haynes’ abuse.

“After they started dating, when I started getting reports of Erick’s abusive behavior, I proceeded to start calling Zaria more often than I normally would and give her advice on the situation and what I thought she would do.”

McKeever said he last spoke with his daughter two days before she was murdered, and she said that she’d planned to move to Texas to get away from Haynes. 

Just before Judge William Koch sentenced Haynes, the defendant made a brief apology, which McKeever’s family later said was not sincere.

“I just want to say that I’m sorry to the family of Ms. McKeever,” Haynes said.

First-degree premeditated murder carries an automatic sentence of life without parole in Minnesota. But the attorney general’s office agreed to drop that count in exchange for Haynes pleading guilty to 1st degree intentional murder. 

Koch said Haynes will be eligible for parole after serving 30 years in prison. 

“I would note that this is a life sentence,” Koch said. “While there is a possibility for release after 30 years, it does not mean you’re getting out after 30 years.” 

Koch told Haynes that if he makes amends and is “truly remorseful,” there’s a chance that a future parole board may determine that he should be released.

After Kamara is sentenced, Haynes sister Eriana Haynes and brother-in-law Tavion James, who each pleaded guilty to aiding an offender, face sentencing June 5. Prosecutors are seeking terms of four and 3.5 years, respectively.

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