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Minnesota woman asks pardons board to help her avoid persecution in home country

Ahmed Tesema, right, the brother of homicide victim Habibi Tesema, testifies against a pardon for Amreya Shefa in St. Paul Tuesday. Matt Sepic / MPR News

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Board of Pardons does not appear likely to grant clemency to a woman convicted of killing her husband after he allegedly abused and raped her. Amreya Shefa, 46, is no longer in prison, but remains jailed while she awaits deportation.

Shefa and her attorney asked the board to keep her from having to face violence in her home country.

Shefa married Habibi Tesema in Ethiopia in 2006 and joined him in the United States in 2012, settling in Richfield. Shefa has said throughout their marriage, Tesema repeatedly abused her and forced her to perform certain sex acts against her will.

After an alleged instance of this behavior in late 2013, Shefa stabbed her husband 30 times. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said a wound to Tesema's heart was fatal.

After a bench trial, a Hennepin County judge acquitted Shefa of second-degree murder, but convicted her of a lesser manslaughter charge — intentionally causing death, as Minnesota law puts it, in the heat of passion.

At a state Board of Pardons hearing Tuesday, Shefa testified by phone from the Kandiyohi County Jail, where she's being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Reading from a statement, Shefa said she is sorry for her crime.

"I am very remorseful for the killing of my husband. I wish I would have been in a better state of mind so as to make a better decision," she said.

Shefa said she fears being tortured or killed if forced to return, and said she would help other victims of domestic violence if allowed to stay in the United States.

Law student Kimberly Medina, a member of Shefa's legal team, also noted that Shefa is HIV positive and a member of a Muslim minority group from a majority Christian country — additional factors that put her at risk. Medina said Shefa already must live with the consequences of her crime.

"But those consequences should not include deportation, exile, harm, persecution, torture or death. And this board has the power to spare her," Medina said.

The board also heard from women who befriended Shefa at the Shakopee women's prison. Former inmate Holly Aho tutored Shefa in English while they were behind bars.

"She's one of the smartest people that I know, one of my smartest students. She learned English in a few months of me getting to know her. I was just amazed," Aho said.

Members of Tesema's family came to the hearing to argue against granting clemency. Ahmed Tesema said Shefa concocted stories of domestic abuse, and that she could still harm others.

"She's dangerous to this community. She's [a] danger for our family," Ahmed Tesema said.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons includes three high-level state officials: Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Lorie Gildea, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court. A pardon requires a unanimous vote from all three.

The board did not make a final decision. Walz and Ellison each said they wanted to take more time to review the case. But Gildea said she'd made up her mind.

"I don't support the pardon," Gildea said. "As the district court said at sentencing, and I'll just quote, 'You had alternatives to you that night. You were aware of what the alternatives were that you could have taken but you chose not to.'"

Shefa's attorney Linus Chan hopes Gildea will change her decision. Chan said a federal appeals court has stayed an order of removal that would force Shefa to leave the U.S. If that stay is lifted and the pardon board denies clemency, she could be sent back to Ethiopia.

This story originally appeared at: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/06/26/shefa-clemency-deporation-minnesota-board-pardons