A man who set fire to a pawn shop during the height of the George Floyd riots of summer 2020, and killed one person as a result of the fire, has escaped a murder charge thanks to a lenient judge and prosecutors who praised the killer for his “candor.”
“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 reported.
On May 28, 2020, Lee torched the Max It Pawn Shop in Minneapolis, with video of his actions showing him dousing the store in accelerant, and later holding up his fist as a person taping him says “Oh sh*t, you really did it.”
A second video shows Lee standing in front of the pawnshop as it burns. A man asks him, ”What you do, Tez?” to which Lee replies, “F*ck this place. We’re gonna burn this b*tch down.”
According to the prosecutor’s sentencing documents, “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 Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office attributed O.S.’s death to “probable inhalation of products of combustion and thermal injury (building fire),” the documents noted.
Speaking to the Examiner, former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani said, “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,” Rahmani said.
The two prosecutors in charge of the case, Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Calhoun-Lopez, signed a sentencing memo lauding Lee for his “candor.” The prosecutors argue that Lee did not commit the act for personal gain, and it was a commercial building, therefore his sentence should be reduced.
The prosecutors claimed that his raising of his first was “terribly misguided” and labelled his actions as having “tragic, unthinkable consequences.” However, the duo cited Martin Luther King that Lee appeared to be that he was, in Dr. King’s eloquent words, engaging in “the language of the unheard.”
According to the Post Bulletin, the judge, Wilhelmina Lee, told Lee:
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.