A St. Paul man was acquitted Friday in the killing of 22-year-old Alex Becker, who was shot six times in the alley behind his North End house after walking home from work last December.
Ramsey County District Judge JaPaul Harris found Shaun Lamar Travis, 26, not guilty of second-degree intentional murder for aiding and abetting in the death of Becker, who prosecutors say was ambushed Dec. 27 in an apparent robbery by Travis and his two accomplices.
Becker’s mother, Tara Becker, cried as she walked out of the courtroom with family and friends.
Detwan Cortell Allen, 19, of St. Paul, and Arteze Owen Kinerd, 21, of Minneapolis, have also been charged with aiding and abetting in Becker’s murder, and have pleaded not guilty. Allen’s jury trial began Monday before Judge Paul Yang.
Travis, of Brooklyn Park, waived his right to a jury trial. A bench trial before Harris ran from Oct. 25 to Nov. 6, with the prosecution and Travis’ attorney filing their written closing arguments Nov. 29.
Becker, a 2019 graduate of Como Park Senior High School, was described by his aunt Hidy Hammarsten as a “gentle, young man who spent his free time playing video games with his younger brothers, watching movies with his sister, and helping his friends and parents in any way he could.”
Investigators found seven 9mm shell casings near Becker’s body. During Travis’ trial, prosecutors did not take a position on who fired the bullets, instead arguing that he “worked together with others to kill Alex Becker.”
Harris said that although Travis admitted to being with Kinerd and Allen in the alley at the time the shots were fired, the state failed to prove all of the elements of the intentional charge to find Travis guilty.
Prosecutors Saraswati Singh and Jessica Plotz argued in their closing arguments that Travis did not need to have pulled the trigger to be found guilty.
“(Travis’) intentional active participation to cause Alex Becker’s death by out numbering, out manning, out gunning, by surprising Alex as a group to kill Alex is enough,” they wrote.
“Travis, Allen and Kinerd ambushed Becker,” prosecutors wrote. “They ambushed an easy target. They ambushed someone who was alone. They ambushed someone who did not have anyone nearby on the street to help him. They ambushed him at night when no one else was around walking home from work. They ambushed someone who was unarmed. They ambushed him using a deadly weapon.”
Allen and Kinerd also face kidnapping and first-degree aggravated robbery charges related to a carjacking in the Merriam Park neighborhood less than three weeks before Becker’s murder.
Prosecutors have filed motions in court of their intent to introduce those charges at both murder trials “for the purpose(s) of motive, knowledge, identity and common scheme or plan.”
Video surveillance shows suspects
It was Becker’s first shift back to work at Goodin Company after a Christmas break. After clocking out at 11:15 p.m. from the Como Avenue heating and plumbing parts company, where his dad works, Becker began his walk home in the snow-covered streets. Becker had been saving up for a car, his mother, Tara Becker, testified at Allen’s trial.
Surveillance video showed a black sedan with a damaged passenger side headlight go past Becker as he was walking north on Kent Street near Hatch Avenue around 11:51 p.m. He turned into his alley between Lawson and Hatch avenues, and Allen, Kinerd and Travis ran down the alley after him, according to prosecutors.
Another resident’s surveillance system then recorded four rapid gunshots followed by three rapid gunshots and a final gunshot.
Tara Becker testified at Allen’s trial that she was awake, waiting for her son. At about midnight, she heard gunshots. “They sounded close,” prosecutors wrote. “She called Alex. It went to voicemail. She called several times. Alex never picked up.”
She went to the front side window of the house, and saw Travis and Kinerd running east east on Lawson Avenue, right in front of her home, prosecutors say. She saw a black sedan drive east, which was consistent with home surveillance captured by a neighbor.
The first police officers arrived just after 12 a.m. Dec. 28 and found Becker lying on the ground, not breathing and with no pulse. His body was still warm. Medics arrived and pronounced him dead.
Gun in waistband
Prosecutors during trial showed video surveillance footage of who they said was Travis with a “dark, rigid and rectangular object” sticking out of waistband as he ran into the alley. St. Paul police Sgt. John Keating testified the object was consistent with the handle of a gun.
A magazine base plate, base plate part and spring were found next to Becker’s body along with the 9mm shell casings. The magazine base plate was tested by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which determined that Allen’s DNA could not be excluded as a contributor to the DNA mixture that was found on it.
“The element does not require identifying which of the perpetrators fired a gun or how many guns were used that night,” prosecutors wrote. “It was at least one of the three perpetrators that fired the murder weapon. And they were together when the gun was fired.”
Officers on Jan. 2 found the stolen Camry parked three blocks from Broadway Flats, which was Kinerd’s apartment building in North Minneapolis. It was the same apartment where a cellphone that was taken in a recent home invasion robbery in St. Paul pinged during an investigation, the charges say.
Investigators learned that Allen, Kinerd and Travis had left the apartment less than two hours before the shooting and that they wore the same distinct clothing as the men who followed Becker into the alley, the charges say. Surveillance video showed them returning to the apartment about a half-hour after the killing, and staying there for the night.
Police arrested Kinerd at a gas station near his apartment Jan. 3. A handgun was found hidden on a store shelf where he had ducked down after seeing officers. Forensic ballistic tests came back showing the gun was used in Becker’s killing, the charges say.
Later, in an interview with investigators, Kinerd was evasive when asked whether he was among the three men seen on video returning to his apartment shortly after the killing. He said it wasn’t him and didn’t know them. When asked where he was the night of the murder, he refused to answer.
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