North St. Paul gun heist that turned deadly: Shooter, 18, sentenced for murder

A teen was sentenced to 20 years in prison Wednesday for fatally shooting a 24-year-old man during a gun heist in North St. Paul.

Abo Eshun Essilfie, who turned 18 in September, pleaded guilty in adult court in August to aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder in the June killing of Anthony Robert Rojas, who was shot in the head at his apartment.

Essilfie, of St. Paul, faced between 23 and 32 years in prison based on state sentencing guidelines. The prosecution requested 27 years, while Essilfie’s attorney asked for a downward departure to 13¾ years. Judge JaPaul Harris granted a departure of 20 years.

Most inmates in Minnesota serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the remainder on supervised release. Essilfie has credit for 146 days served since his arrest in the case.

After the sentencing, one of Rojas’ family members said the sentence was not long enough.

“He got off light,” said the family member, who did not give her name. “We’re very unsatisfied.”

She said in an interview that Rojas was “giving, caring, compassionate. People took advantage of him all the time. He had people staying at his house that had no business being there.”

Prosecutors initially charged five teens, but later dismissed cases against three of them. Cases against 19-year-olds Octavion Rayshawn Jones and Steven Lawrence Terry, both of St. Paul, remain pending in court.

Terry reached a plea deal with prosecutors last month that calls for no prison time. In exchange for pleading guilty to possession of a gun not identified by a serial number, a charge of aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder will be dismissed at his Dec. 15 sentencing hearing, according to the agreement.

Jones is due back in court March 1 for a review hearing on his charge of aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder.

Shot in the head

Officers were sent to an apartment building in the 2100 block of N. McKnight Road about 6:15 p.m. June 19 on a report of someone on the third floor with a gun. Rojas was found in a hallway of his third-floor apartment with a gunshot wound to the right side of his head and was pronounced dead.

Investigators found two open and empty gun safes and a 3D printer in the apartment. They found a printer they believed was being used to create lower receivers for ghost handguns, the criminal complaints say. Such guns are privately made and untraceable because they don’t have serial numbers.

Multiple witnesses told investigators they saw several people running from the apartment building.

Police soon were sent to the 2100 block of Burke Avenue, which is a couple of blocks from the apartment, after a 911 caller reported that a juvenile male, who had a gun in his pocket, dropped two bags of handguns. Officers found two bags with 15 Glock 9mm handguns and an AR-style pistol.

‘Just supposed to rob the guy’

Jones told police he and four other teens had been hanging out in Rojas’ apartment and that everyone had guns and were passing them around, the complaints say. He said Essilfie and Rojas went into a back room and oiled some guns and he believed Essilfie was going to trade one of his guns to Rojas for two ghost guns.

Jones said two teens left the apartment to find Terry, who was outside. He said he was in the bathroom when he heard a loud bang. He said he came out and “Essilfie gave him a look and told him to grab a bag full of guns,” the complaints say.

A confidential informant earlier told law enforcement that “23” and Jones “were just supposed to rob the guy of the ghost guns, but 23 shot him instead” and identified “23” as Essilfie, the complaints say.

Essilfie has two juvenile adjudications for a 2021 aggravated robbery and a 2020 simple robbery, both in Ramsey County.

His August guilty plea followed new charges that were filed against him a week earlier in connection with a shooting at Southdale Mall in Edina a month and a half before Rojas’ killing.

Mall video surveillance showed Essilfie chasing after someone near the mall’s food court and firing several rounds from a gun with an extended magazine just before 8 p.m. on April 5, a juvenile petition said. No one was struck by the gunfire, and the person Essilfie shot at pointed a gun back at him and a suspect with him. All three involved in the shooting fled the mall before police arrived on scene.

Essilfie was identified in video surveillance by “law enforcement familiar with him,” according to the July 26 juvenile petition charging him with illegal gun possession, second-degree assault and reckless discharge of a gun. The case is pending in court.

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