Bail for double murder suspect set at $2 million

    A cheer erupted in a Dakota County courtroom Monday afternoon when Judge Cynthia McCollum granted the prosecution's request to set bail at $2 million for Jonna Kojo Armartey, who was formally charged with two counts of second-degree murder for mowing down an Eagan couple with his minivan during their evening stroll and leaving them for dead in a parking lot last Thurday.
    Judge McCollum, a former public defender, cautioned the standing-room-only crowd--separated from the judge and defendant by two clear windows--to maintain decorum in the courtroom. "No clapping," Judge McCollum warned the crowd gathered for the first hearing in the case of the murder of Roger and Diane Peterson. "If there's clapping going forward, you will be removed from the courtroom."
    Armartey, 36, of 2099 Silver Bell Road, Eagan, was formally charged with two counts of second-degree murder in a criminal complaint released Monday. Armartey, an African immigrant with a history of violent crimes was appointed a public defender who waived reading of the charges against him and reserved the right to argue for bail another day. The public defender also requested a speedy hearing. The next court appearance was scheduled for July 12.
    Assistant County Attorney Kathryn Keena, who was joined at the prosecution table by County Attorney James Backstrom, argued high bail was necessary because Armartey was both a threat to the community and a flight risk. Keena detailed a Armartey's criminal history dating back to charges from his former home of New Jersey in 2002. The prosecution argued he was wanted on a warrant from New Jersey and had failed to pay child support there.
    There was a gasp from the courtroom audience when Keena disclosed that Armartey's immigration status was unclear and that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had twice started deportation proceedings against him. "Surprise, surprise," a member of the audience muttered as Armartey's immigration status was discussed. The prosecution requested Armartey be ordered to surrender his passport.
    Armartey was apparently living in the van that struck the Petersons after being asked to leave his family's Silver Bell Road apartment. Eagan police had been called to that apartment the day before the murders for a domestic dispute, according to the criminal complaint. The police department has refused to release the police report of that event, claiming it is now part of the murder investigation.
    The Petersons lived near the apartment from which Armartey had been asked to leave but investigators don't think Armartey knew them. Armartey allegedly told police the victims "freaked him out" when they walked near his van "so he ran them over" at high speed.
    Eagan Police were called to the scene of the double homicide, 2020 Silver Bell Road, shortly before 10 p.m. June 28. Police arrived to find the couple bleeding and struggling to breathe. The Petersons were taken to Regions Hospital where they were pronounced dead.
    Witnesses gave police a description of the silver minivan that sped from the scene. Police also saw security surveillance footage of the van following the Petersons in the parking lot where they were found.
    Another witness called 911 to report that he had heard the description of the van while listening to a police scanner and directed police to a restaurant parking lot up the street. Police found the van there with a cracked windshield and Diane Peterson's cell phone tucked under the passenger side windshield wiper. Police also saw prescription bottles with Armartey's name inside the van. Police then traced the suspect to an Apple Valley hotel where he was arrested at about 5 a.m.
    Armartey appeared in court in a white hospital-style shirt. He displayed little emotion during the hearing and responded to Judge McCollum's questions in coherent sentences spoken in English. In response to a question from the judge about the pronunciation of his name, he told her she mispronounced it the first time, but pronounced it correctly the second.
    At the time of the killings, Armartey was on probation for three felonies, according to the county attorney's office. Those charges included theft of a motor vehicle and assaulting a correctional officer. Armartey had also been charged with felony assault for spitting in the face of a jail psychiatrist when the psychiatrist asked how he could help Armartey. He had been civilly committed related to that charge, according to the county attorney's office.