Man pleads guilty to murder as result of fire

Thomas Douty

A Minneapolis man is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder in Hennepin County District Court.
Shane Matthew Knapp pled guilty yesterday to the murder of 18-year-old Letu Hayato as a result of the Aug. 5 fire he set on the third floor of a University Avenue apartment building.
Firefighters found Hayato’s body in a third-floor hallway, where she collapsed from smoke inhalation and exposure to heat.
“Under the facts and the circumstances of this case, it appeared to be in his best interest to enter a plea of guilty and deal with sentencing issues later,” said Robert Miller, Knapp’s attorney.
Second-degree murder — causing the death of another person while committing or attempting to commit a crime — carries a maximum prison term of 40 years.
But Knapp will likely face 150 months in prison under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, since he is considered a first-time offender without a criminal record, other than a few traffic violations.
However, Knapp is suspected of starting two earlier fires in the building.
“We’ll be attempting to show that this crime is different from the normal scenario,” Miller said.
Knapp, who started the deadly fire by pouring gasoline in the third-floor hallway, told police he was attempting to collect renter’s insurance from his apartment. He said he was trying to please his girlfriend, who had been pressuring him about money.
Knapp is being held in Hennepin County Adult Detention Center until his March 30 sentencing hearing. His 19-year-old girlfriend was arrested and released without charges.
Ross Corson, a Hennepin County Attorney’s Office spokesman, said the arson charge will be dropped at the hearing.
Minneapolis police evacuated more than 35 residents in the early morning hours of Aug. 5 after fire alarms woke residents of the three-story apartment building.
Several residents and fire fighters also suffered minor injuries.
Hayato, an immigrant from eastern Africa, shared a third-floor apartment with her family.
She had come to the United States only months earlier as a refugee with a job and college plans, said Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar.
“She escaped war and suffering in East Africa, only to die here as the result of someone’s criminal act,” Klobuchar said.
Hayato woke her family before trying to escape the burning building. Minneapolis firefighters rescued her family through an apartment window.

–Staff reports contributed to this article.

Thomas Douty covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected] He also can be reached at 627-4070 x3233.