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Slain Moorhead taxi driver's family says shooter's sentence is too short

Willie Sparkman Jr. was sentenced Monday to 12 1/2 years in prison for killing Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi.

A man in a dark blue sweater sits next to a lawyer in a suit in a courtroom.
Willie Sparkman speaks to the judge on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, in Clay County Court before hearing his sentence for killing a taxi driver in May 2021 in Moorhead.
Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
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MOORHEAD — The family of a Moorhead taxi driver who was fatally shot last year is saying the sentence handed down to his killer is too short and gives him "another chance at life."

Willie Alonzo Sparkman Jr., 20, of Moorhead, was sentenced Monday, Nov. 7, to 12 ½ years in prison for killing Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi for rent money.

Sparkman cried and apologized Monday in Clay County District Court before Judge Tammy Merkins sentenced him for fatally shooting the 18-year-old Moorhead man last year.

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Sparkman said in court. “If I could change it, I would.”

Sparkman previously pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony murder charge in connection to the May 5, 2021, shooting in a Moorhead apartment parking lot. Court documents said he and his then-girlfriend, Kristy Thi Vo, 19, of Fargo, called Doyle’s Yellow Checker Cab to 3015 20th St. S. at about 3:20 a.m. with plans to rob a taxi driver for rent money.

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When Abdullahi arrived in his cab, Sparkman shot the taxi driver, court documents said. Sparkman then fled in a vehicle driven by Vo, police alleged.

Abdullahi drove his vehicle across 20th Street South and railroad tracks before crashing into a nearby ditch. Police found him dead around 4 a.m.

Abdullahi’s family said 12 years was not a long enough sentence for a crime in which a person’s life was taken. The family came to America to seek an honest way of life, his brother Mohamed Abdullahi said.

“We came here based on a future we imagined and making it reality,” Mohamed Abdullahi said.

The brother said he couldn’t imagine someone doing what Sparkman did because they were short a few dollars. He said he couldn’t forgive such a senseless crime.

“He gets another chance at life while my brother is 6 feet in the ground,” Nina Abdullahi said in court.

Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi was more than a taxi driver, his sister said. He was a brother and her best friend.

A in a formal vest and button-down shirt sits in front of a brick wall.
Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi
Contributed

“We’re talking about a young man working hard, trying to live the American dream,” prosecutor Pamela Foss said.

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Vo has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery and aiding and abetting in aggravated robbery.

Sparkman had faced 40 years in prison. Because he pleaded guilty to murder, charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery and aggravated robbery were dismissed.

A recommendation for 150 months in prison was part of a joint plea agreement that follows Minnesota's sentencing guidelines.

Sparkman has shown remorse, his attorney Michael Minard said in calling what his client did a “drastic mistake.” Sparkman asked for forgiveness, saying he has to live with the killing for the rest of his life.

“I’m a brother just like him,” Sparkman said. “I’m a cousin just like him. I’m someone’s role model just like him."

Merkins said she understood the family didn't agree with the sentence but noted it was appropriate under Minnesota law. Sparkman could be released from prison after serving two-thirds of his sentence if he does not violate the terms of his plea agreement.

Sparkman also faces a robbery charge in Cass County District Court on allegations that he tried to rob a woman at knifepoint on May 4, 2021, in Fargo. Police also alleged he robbed another Doyle's taxi driver at gunpoint in Fargo 40 minutes before shooting Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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