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Man Who Burned Down Pawnshop During George Floyd Riots, Killing 1, Escapes Murder Charge
Minneapolis pawn shop
Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

After federal prosecutors requested a less harsh sentence for a man in Minneapolis who set a pawn shop afire during the George Floyd riots in 2020, causing one man to die, the fire-setter escaped a murder charge.

“Montez Terriel Lee, 26, pleaded guilty to a single count of arson and was sentenced earlier this month to 10 years in federal prison — much less than the 16 1/2 to 20-year punishment outlined in the sentencing guidelines,” The Washington Examiner noted.

On May 28, 2020, Lee, wearing a mask, burned down the Max It Pawn Shop. Video showed him dousing the store by pouring liquid out from a metal container, then later holding up his fist as the person videotaping him says, “Oh s***, you really did it!”

A second video showed Lee standing in front of the burning pawnshop as someone asks him,  “What you do, Tez?” Lee chortles, “F*** this place. We’re going to burn this b**** down!”

The prosecutor’s sentencing documents state, “On June 5, 2020, a man named Oscar Lee Stewart, 30, was reported missing to the Burnsville Police Department by his mother. Mr. Stewart’s mother reported that she had not seen her son since May 28, 2020. Investigators learned that Mr. Stewart’s vehicle had been found near the Max It Pawn. On July 20, 2020, authorities located Mr. Stewart’s body in the rubble of the Max It Pawn.”

The Examiner pointed out. “The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office attributed O.S.’s death to ‘probable inhalation of products of combustion and thermal injury (building fire),’” The U.S. Department of Justice stated.

Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told the Examiner, “It could have been tried as a capital case. Even if conduct isn’t charged under the sentencing guidelines, any relevant conduct can be considered by the sentencing judge in fashioning an appropriate sentence. Any time there is a felony committed — and arson is a felony — and a death ensues, that’s homicide. … It doesn’t matter that just the arson was charged because someone died as a result. It’s a murder case.”

Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Calhoun-Lopez signed a sentencing memo in which Lee was lauded for his “candor.” The prosecutors contended that Lee did not commit the act for personal gain and it was a commercial building, thus his sentence should be gentler.  They called his raising of his fist “terribly misguided” and labeled his actions as having tragic, unthinkable consequences,” but cited Dr. Martin Luther King, saying Lee “[appeared] to believe that he was, in Dr. King’s eloquent words, engaging in ‘the language of the unheard.’”

Judge Wilhelmina Wright told Lee, according to the Post Bulletin:

You are more than the person who celebrated your actions on social media as if there was anything worth celebrating. You are more than the person that destroyed that business by fire. You are more than the person who set that fire that killed a man. And no matter how upset you may have been and you may currently be, you are alive today. You have a future. The victim of that fire does not. So while there are no excuses for your actions on May 28, 2020, you have a chance to move forward and live a productive life. You have a chance to move forward and contribute to a better life for yourself, to a better life for those that you love and to a better life for others. I hope that you use your prison term to address the struggles that you have, Mr. Lee, and to commit to treating and working through your depression, your anxiety, your PTSD and I hope that you also realize how your actions impact others.

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