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04 October 2010

Suspect takes a deal in slaying of Apple Valley cabdriver

FT322.jpgThe victim's family wanted a tougher penalty for Abdirahman Abdikarim, but disappearing and recanting witnesses hurt the state's murder case

Linda Palm's fears came true in a Dakota County courtroom on Monday: The 19-year-old accused of killing her son, a cabdriver, with a screwdriver during a robbery in 2009 was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge than first-degree murder.

Abdirahman A. Abdikarim pleaded guilty to second-degree unintentional murder in the killing of Michael A. Palm Jr., 41.

He had also been indicted for first-degree and second-degree intentional murder, but those charges were dropped because key witnesses against him fell through.

Now he could serve half the time he would have faced.

"Do you know what that means? ... He'll be out killing again!" Linda Palm said before breaking into tears in a courthouse hallway.

Prosecutors "reluctantly" offered the deal because two witnesses disappeared and a third recanted his statement to police, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said Monday evening.

One witness is believed to have fled to Kenya, and another left the state, Backstrom said.

"It's always frustrating when witnesses disappear and we're not able to use all of the evidence initially obtained in a case," he said.

A first-degree murder conviction is punishable by up 30 years in prison. State sentencing guidelines call for 15 to 21 years for second-degree unintentional murder in this case.

Judge Erica MacDonald will decide the sentence Dec. 14.

Defense attorney Earl Gray said he'll ask for an even more lenient sentence of 12 years, given that the property crimes making up Abdikarim's criminal history -- identity theft and auto theft -- were committed around the time of the slaying rather than comprising a long track record of crime.

Linda Palm did not want a plea deal. She and her family wanted the killer to go to prison for 30 years, if not for life.

"Murder is bad enough, but what he did to our son was horrible," she said




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