The family and friends of Barway Collins, the 10-year-old Crystal boy whose body was found in the Mississippi River last April, breathed a sigh of relief Monday morning.
Pierre Collins, the 33-year-old man accused of killing his son, Barway, pleaded guilty to second-degree intentional murder and was given 40 years in prison, the maximum sentence allowed.
“I wanted justice for Barway,” said Louise Karluah, the boy’s mother, who recently came from Liberia for her son’s funeral. “And I’ve gotten justice for Barway today.”
Because the victim was a vulnerable child and Collins was in a position of power, Hennepin County District Court Judge Tanya Bransford explained, the sentence is longer than typical for second-degree murder.
But as part of a plea deal between Collins and prosecutors, the judge dismissed a charge of a first-degree premeditated murder — partially because Collins, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had a clean criminal history.
Collins, dressed in an orange jail garb, appeared in a packed Hennepin County courtroom Monday, detailing how he killed his son, a fourth-grader at Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School in Brooklyn Center.
On March 18, when a van dropped off Barway at his Cedarwood Apartments, where he lived with his father and stepmother, Yamah Collins, he remained outside playing, though Barway was supposed to be at home right after school. “He was misbehaving,” he told the judge. “That made me angry.”
Collins called Barway into the apartment and hit him, he told the judge. Barway fell to the ground and became unconscious.
Collins “was scared” because he thought he would get in trouble with the law enforcement over the beating, he told the judge. “I took him to the river,” he added “I duct taped him and threw him in the water.”
Collins, who initially claimed he had nothing to do with the death of his son, confessed Monday that he was guilty. Assistant Public Defender Shawn Webber asked if Collins understood what he was guilty of.
“I am guilty because I killed my son,” he replied.
A ‘special child’
Karluah first met her then-French teacher Collins in Africa when she was 15 years old. When Barway was 5, she sent him to the United States to join his father so he could establish a better future here, she said.
At the Monday hearing, Karluah looked at Pierre Collins in the eye and asked why he didn’t just send Barway to her in Liberia if he was “tired of him.”
Barway was a “special child for me because he was my first child,” she said as she shed tears. “He was special, special child to me.”
The local Liberian community arranged Karluah’s arrival in Minnesota so she could attend her son’s April burial. Her attorney, Marcus Jarvis, told the press on Monday that she will eventually return to Liberia.
The question of motive
Twenty-six days after Barway’s disappearance, a Boy Scout group discovered a body with duct tape wrapped around the feet and torso floating in the Mississippi River in Brooklyn Center.
According to a court document, Collins was unemployed and was struggling financially. But he had two life insurance polices on Barway. Collins reportedly sought to increase the coverage from $30,000 to $50,000 two days before his son went missing.
After reports about the life insurance unfolded, many in the Liberian community and others accused Collins of killing his son for financial gain.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, however, said on Monday that it’s hard to know Collins’ motive of killing Barway. “We don’t absolutely know,” he said. “The only person who knows is Pierre Collins, and he’s not sharing.”
He added: “None of us can explain or comprehend how a father could kill his son. We don’t know exactly what happened.”
‘There’s more to the story’
Barway’s family said they were satisfied with the investigation outcomes, although they expected Collins to say more about who else was involved in the murder.
In surveillance video released by Crystal officials in March, Barway is seen in the school van, telling a friend, “There is my dad,” and later, “Oh, my uncle’s here.”
“We felt that there was a lot that [Collins] should have said,” Emmanuel Monluo, Karluah’s brother, told the press. “We want to know who was the uncle that Barway saw.”
Like Monluo, Collins’ ex-wife, Jennifer Beaver, said she thinks Collins left out important information in his confession. “There’s more to the story … that he’s not telling,” she said. “And we’ll never get that part of the story.”
When the two divorced, Beaver said that she tried to get custody of Barway — but to no avail. “I tried to get Barway,” she said. “Barway did not want to go with Pierre. Barway wanted to stay with me and with the children.”
In closing remarks, Collins asked “everybody in the community” to forgive him for the pain he caused his family, friends and the larger community.
Victoria Peabody, who accompanied Karluah at the court, told the judge that she forgave Collins. “We forgave him,” she said. “That’s the only way we can move forward.”
Peabody added: “Our name in the community is tarnished because of Collins,” she said of the tens of thousands of West African community members in Minnesota.
Said Judge Bransford: “It is hard to conceive, unimaginable, that a parent would kill their own child. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can ever be done that will bring back Barway Collins.”