Murder victim's loved ones question early release for convicts after MN law change

(FOX 9) - The loved ones of a murder victim are speaking out, disgusted that two women involved in a fatal burglary were released from prison early, after a change in law.

"I mean, for an accomplice in a murder, definitely, you should spend your full time in jail," said Noe Townsend, Corey Elder’s girlfriend. "But, I mean, I guess you get out early for anything."

Townsend was terrorized when Elder was killed in their Bloomington apartment nearly seven years ago.

"Just very disappointed in the justice system," Townsend told FOX 9’s Paul Blume in an interview on Monday.

The legislature recently rewrote the law on aiding and abetting felony murder so that only those either directly connected to the killing or major participants in the crime, can be charged, convicted, and ultimately face the harshest consequences. That law can be applied retroactively, meaning those already in prison can have their cases re-sentenced on lesser charges.

Last week, Megan Cater and Briana Martinson, who were codefendants in the crime, had their convictions reduced. They were freed from prison more than two-and-a-half years early on a lesser count of aiding and abetting first-degree burglary.

"Really upset, definitely. It is probably the most irritating part, besides the fact he is actually dead and gone, and they get a second chance. But he doesn't get one," stated Townsend, who was nearby in the apartment when a group of four stormed in to steal the drugs on April 27, 2017. She was not physically injured, but insists, she was emotionally and psychologically scarred for life by what happened.

Cater and Martinson ransacked the apartment, stealing the drugs while two men brutally assaulted and then fatally shot Elder. Authorities from the outset acknowledged the two women were less culpable.

In a written statement to FOX 9 on Monday, Bobbie Elder, Corey’s mother added the family is not satisfied by the reduced consequences, believing the criminal justice system failed her son:

"Although this change in law has its time and place for being warranted, this case is not one of them. Megan Cater and Brianna Martinson were the masterminds behind the events that led up to my son, Corey Elder’s, murder. They think that it was the actions of Maurice Verser that landed them in prison, but it was THEIR actions that did so. They were the ones that had and arranged the entire plan, including ensuring there was a gun present. They have convinced themselves and their families as a false narrative that paints them as victims, which is the opposite of the facts."

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty and her office were supportive of the appeals from Cater and Martinson following the law change. Moriarty told Blume, it is critical to justly sentence people for the actual crimes they committed. And that too often the felony murder statute was unfairly punishing lesser participants in a slaying.

"We are not talking about people who are innocent of everything. We are just recognizing exactly the role that they played," said Moriarty. "So, I think this was a really good thing that the legislature did, which was to try to get some equity in the sentences."

It is impossible to know just how many of those previously convicted of aiding and abetting felony murder offenses could have their charges reduced. FOX 9 confirmed the Department of Corrections was required to notify some 550 people, including current prisoners, that could potentially be eligible.

State court administrators report there have been at least 57 cases where someone filed a preliminary application to vacate a conviction of aiding and abetting felony murder since the new law was enacted. The newly established court process does not require the support of the local prosecutor. A judge makes the ultimate determination if a person is eligible.