ST. PAUL, Minn. – A 17-year-old was sentenced to 32 years in prison Tuesday for the St. Paul murder of Yuliya “Julia” Li, a 34-year-old businesswoman who moved to the United States from Kazakhstan in 2007 to study at the University of Minnesota.
Melvin Dump Williams was 15 at the time of the murder but was certified to stand trial as an adult in May, according to court records.
“Sadly, this is yet another example of how our system has failed to put victims first, failed to help a young person going down a dangerous and destructive path, and failed our entire community,” former St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said after the Feb. 16, 2022, murder.
According to the charges, Li had just finished grocery shopping for a dinner party and was waiting to turn left off of Payne Avenue onto Cook Avenue when Williams approached from behind in a Ford Taurus. He then fired a gun from the driver’s side of his vehicle, striking Li in the back of the head.
Melvin Dump Williams (Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)
Police recovered four spent shell casings from the scene and connected them to two other incidents in Minneapolis in which Williams was a suspect, including one case where Williams allegedly exited a vehicle and began shooting.
When police responded to the scene around 6:40 p.m., they found Li slumped over in the driver’s seat of her vehicle, which was still running and in drive. She was “bleeding profusely” from a gunshot wound to the back of her head. Li was transported to Regions Hospital and pronounced dead.
“If every spoke in the criminal justice wheel had worked to hold this teen accountable for previous crimes, Ms. Li would be here, the suspect would have received help and consequences to right his course, and our city would not have suffered the trauma of echoing gunshots,” Axtell said at the time. “This tragedy was entirely preventable.”
Li joined H.B. Fuller in a marketing role in July 2017, a company spokesperson previously told Alpha News. She had most recently been employed as a global business director and led the company’s Amazon business project.
Li moved to the United States in 2007 to study at the University of Minnesota, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in economics and global studies. She left the Twin Cities to work in brand management and marketing for GE and Procter & Gamble before returning to St. Paul in 2016 to earn her MBA from the University of St. Thomas.
She is survived by her parents, sister, and husband.
Williams pleaded guilty in June to second-degree murder in exchange for prosecutors dropping a second count against him. On Tuesday, Ramsey County Judge Reynaldo Aligada sentenced Williams to 386 months — 32 years — in prison with credit for time served of 629 days, according to court records. In Minnesota, offenders are only required to serve two-thirds of their sentences incarcerated.
This article originally appeared at Alpha News and was reprinted with permission.