State v. Ezeka, A18-0828

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation946 N.W.2d 393
Docket NumberA18-0828
Parties STATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Joshua Chiazor EZEKA, Appellant.
Decision Date15 July 2020

946 N.W.2d 393

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,
Joshua Chiazor EZEKA, Appellant.


Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Filed: July 15, 2020


McKEIG, Justice.

After waiving his Miranda rights during a custodial interrogation in January 2017, appellant Joshua Ezeka admitted that he

946 N.W.2d 398

fired multiple shots at a rival gang member and that one of his bullets fatally struck an innocent bystander. A grand jury indicted Ezeka for several offenses, including first-degree premeditated murder. Ezeka moved to suppress his post- Miranda statements, asserting three arguments. First, he argued that the protection of an earlier invocation of the right to counsel under Article I, Section 7 of the Minnesota Constitution was still in effect in January 2017. Second, he argued that his post- Miranda statements were inadmissible under State v. Bailey , 677 N.W.2d 380 (Minn. 2004). Third, he argued that his post- Miranda statements were involuntary. The district court denied the motion, and, on appeal, Ezeka argues this was error. Ezeka also argues that he is entitled to a new trial based on an erroneous jury instruction on the elements of premeditated murder and because the district court failed to give a jury instruction on accomplice testimony. Further, he asserts his 360-month sentence for attempted first-degree premeditated murder was error because it exceeded the statutory maximum. Because we conclude that Ezeka's statements were admissible and that the jury instructions were not plain error, we affirm Ezeka's convictions. But because Ezeka's 360-month sentence exceeded the statutory maximum, we reverse that sentence and remand for resentencing.


This case arises from the death of Birdell Beeks, who died as a result of a shooting on May 26, 2016. That day, at 6:03 p.m., a gunman fired nine shots at a gold Toyota Corolla driven by D.G., a known member of the "Highs" gang. One of the bullets struck and killed Beeks, who was sitting in a nearby van with her granddaughter.

Police suspected the gunman had fired the shots from a grass-covered vacant lot behind the house where appellant Joshua Ezeka lived with his parents. A K-9 unit tracked a scent from the vacant lot to the back door of Ezeka's house. Concerned that the gunman fled into the house, the police set up a perimeter and conducted a protective sweep of the house.

In the course of the sweep, four of Ezeka's family members and four of his friends were removed from the house. Ezeka was not in the house. The police obtained and executed a search warrant. In a kitchen cupboard, the officers found ammunition with Ezeka's fingerprints; in Ezeka's bedroom, they found a live .380 cartridge and a revolver; and in the basement, the officers found more .380 caliber ammunition.

Ezeka was a member of a rival gang of the Highs called the "Lows." Security camera footage from a nearby intersection captured images of a vehicle driven by Lows gang member Freddy "Little Zoe" Scott leaving the crime scene immediately after the shooting. Cellphone records showed that the cellphones of Scott and Ezeka connected at 6 p.m. on May 26, 2016, near the crime scene.

Scott testified at trial that, during a police interview, he told police that he had called Ezeka before the shooting to tell him that D.G. was driving a gold car toward Ezeka's house and was planning to "slide," i.e. shoot someone. Scott also told police that he met Ezeka in front of Ezeka's house immediately after the shooting and they drove away in Scott's vehicle.

On June 2, 2016, police investigators conducted a custodial interrogation of Ezeka. During the interrogation, Ezeka invoked his right to counsel under Article I, Section 7 of the Minnesota Constitution and the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The investigators disregarded

946 N.W.2d 399

the invocation and continued to question Ezeka. Throughout the interrogation, Ezeka maintained that he was not involved in the shooting. Ezeka was released from custody 22 days later, on June 24, 2016.

Between July 1, 2016, and December 29, 2016, Ezeka was intermittently incarcerated on unrelated matters. Ezeka had been out of custody for 24 days—beginning on December 30, 2016, and ending on January 23, 2017—when the State filed a criminal complaint charging Ezeka with second-degree intentional murder for the shooting death of Beeks. That same day, police arrested Ezeka at gunpoint and transported him to the Hennepin County jail.

After Ezeka arrived at the jail, he was interrogated in the same room and by the same investigators as the June 2016 interrogation. Unlike the June interrogation, Ezeka did not demand an attorney. The investigators greeted Ezeka in a cordial manner, saying, "Hi Josh" and "What's going on Josh?" The investigators then asked if Ezeka remembered the earlier interrogation. Ezeka said he did. The first investigator told Ezeka they had "some additional questions." He explained that they had talked "to a lot of people," they knew "what happened," and they believed it "wasn't an intentional act on [his] part." In response to these statements, Ezeka said, "I didn't do it."

The investigators then discussed the evidence against Ezeka. They explained the charges and the fact that Ezeka was facing 60 years in prison. When Ezeka said, "It's a long time," the second investigator replied, "it's a long time, you're too young for this." The first investigator then said, "Before we start showing you any of these pictures [from our file] and talking about that, um, we gotta read you your rights." But before the first investigator could proceed, the second investigator interjected that drive-by shootings directed at Ezeka's house might end if he talked. Expressing disbelief, Ezeka asked how an admission would stop the shootings. The first investigator told Ezeka that he did not know if it's "the [H]ighs or if it's some people that are affiliated with [Beeks] ... who [are] shooting up your house but if you can provide us with some answers, maybe some explanations here, maybe that stuff will stop."

After reminding Ezeka that he was facing 60 years in prison, the second investigator said, "The prosecutor, I think will entertain an explanation of what happened." Ezeka then asked, "So, about this person that's in this gold car that I shooting at, what's his name, you said, Sto?" When the first investigator repeated the name "Sto," Ezeka replied, "[w]ho told you guys that?" After explaining that he could not disclose the names of witnesses, the first investigator read Ezeka the Miranda warning. The pre- Miranda portion of the January 2017 interrogation lasted 13 minutes.

Ezeka waived his Miranda rights. He then told the investigators he wanted to see the evidence in their file. The investigators showed Ezeka an aerial photograph of the crime scene and asked him to point to the location of his house. After discussing who was present in the house, the investigators showed Ezeka records that placed his cellphone at the crime scene and documented a call from Freddy Scott's cellphone at approximately 6 p.m. on May 26, 2016. Ezeka repeatedly denied that the caller was Scott. In the end, however, Ezeka provided the investigators a detailed description of his conduct. During his post- Miranda statements, he admitted receiving the phone call from Scott (who told him that D.G. was driving toward his house), leaving the backdoor of his house with a handgun, firing nine bullets at

946 N.W.2d 400

D.G.’s car, and then running to the front of his house, where he fled the scene with Scott.

In March 2017, a Hennepin County grand jury indicted Ezeka with several offenses, including first-degree premeditated murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(1) (2018). The charge of first-degree premeditated murder alleged that Ezeka, "acting alone or intentionally aiding, advising, hiring, counseling or conspiring with another, or otherwise procures the other to commit the crime, caused the death of [Beeks], a human being, with premeditation and with intent to effect the death of that person, or another, while using a firearm."1 The indictment also charged Ezeka with second-degree intentional murder of Beeks, attempted first-degree premeditated murder of D.G., attempted second-degree murder of D.G., and second-degree assault of Beeks’ granddaughter. Each of these charges included an aiding and abetting theory of criminal liability.

In May 2017, Ezeka moved to suppress the post- Miranda statements he made to the investigators during the January 2017 custodial interrogation.2 Ezeka argued that the district court should suppress his statements for three reasons. First, he argued that the investigators obtained the statements in violation of his right to counsel under Article I, Section 7 of the Minnesota Constitution. Second, he argued that his statements were inadmissible under State v. Bailey , 677 N.W.2d 380 (Minn. 2004). Third, he argued that his statements were involuntary.

At a suppression hearing, the district court heard testimony from Ezeka and both investigators and also admitted a video recording and transcript of the January 2017 custodial interrogation. After considering the evidence, the district court denied Ezeka's motion to suppress as to the post- Miranda statements.


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