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A man convicted of arson for participating in the August 2020 rioting that damaged Target's downtown Minneapolis headquarters was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in federal prison in a hearing cut short by an outburst at the judge.
Leroy Lemonte Perry Williams, 37, interrupted closing remarks from Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in St. Paul, shouting that the judge's decision was "unconstitutional." Moments earlier, Magnuson sided with federal prosecutors who called for a "significant sentence" to serve as a deterrent in the event further unrest visits the state.
"While no one hopes for widespread riots in the future, the likelihood of such events remains a distinct possibility as this nation grapples with a period of civil unrest," Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Walcker argued in a previous filing with the court.
Williams, of Minneapolis. was first charged in November 2020 with arson for his participation in downtown Minneapolis rioting that started with the false rumor that a man had been killed that day by Minneapolis police. Instead, the man, Eddie Sole Jr., 38, shot himself when confronted by police investigating reports that he had earlier killed Eddie George Gordon, 61, in a nearby parking ramp. Williams has described Gordon as a "mentor and stepfather figure."
While on pretrial release and staying in a halfway house, Williams went to the Target store in downtown Minneapolis to try to intimidate and threaten a Target employee involved in the case. He was ordered detained after multiple rule violations at the halfway house.
In January 2021, Williams pled guilty to conspiracy to commit arson and was granted a furlough motion to participate in the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge's mental health and substance disorder treatment program.
But he left the program – and the state – in September 2021. He has since said he fled to visit a dying relative in Indiana, but was arrested and returned to Minnesota in July 2022. Back in the state, Williams asked to vacate his guilty plea, was then charged in a superseding indictment with arson and convicted after a three-day trial in October 2023.
Earlier Wednesday, Magnuson refused Williams' arguments to adjust a pre-sentence investigation report that would've lowered his sentencing guidelines in the case. Chiefly, Williams asked that the Target headquarters not be considered a public space.
"To say this isn't a public place is an absolute misnomer: 4,000 people work in that place and if you had been successful in your arson … 4,000 people would've been out of work," Magnuson said. "And if Target Corp. did need to rebuild that building, it probably wouldn't have been done yet. This is a very, very serious crime and I will not make light of it."
Glenn Bruder, Williams' attorney, had requested a 5-year sentence. Two other men, Shador Tommie Cortez Jackson and Victor Devon Edwards, pleaded guilty in 2021 to charges related to starting a fire in the Target headquarters mail room, causing at least $1 million in damages. Edwards was sentenced to more than 8 years in federal prison and Jackson received nearly 3 years.
Williams was captured on surveillance video lighting a cardboard box on fire and placing it inside the Target Headquarters building through a shattered glass door. He made several attempts to reignite the box as the flames petered out and also tried to start a fire inside the building's vestibule.
Bruder urged Magnuson to give his client "his first opportunity to turn his life around," pointing to a harrowing upbringing in which Williams first witnessed his own mother's substance disorder and physical abuse by a partner before eventually turning to drugs and alcohol himself.
Williams choked up as he addressed Magnuson midway through the hearing, noting his two children in attendance.
"What makes me cry is they shouldn't be seeing this," he said. "I should not be standing in front of you right now, but because of my bad decision making here I am fighting for my life and my freedom."
Williams apologized for his role in "adding to the problem instead of helping find a solution" at a time in which the Twin Cities were vulnerable to unrest just months after George Floyd's killing.
But as Magnuson explained his rationale for granting the government's request for a 10-year sentence, Williams shook his head and grew agitated. The judge recognized Williams' intellect, while saying that he could tell that he needed serious chemical dependency and mental health treatment.
"How do I get 10 years for attempted arson?" Williams interrupted. "It makes no sense, sir! It's unconstitutional."
"You are demonstrating right now why I am saying what I am about mental health," Magnuson said, before abruptly ending the hearing.