Minn. man pleads guilty to manslaughter of off-duty firefighter

Dontay Lee Caraway, of St. Paul, was released from the Ramsey County jail after his plea on Tuesday and is due back in court in October for his sentencing


Mara H. Gottfried
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A 41-year-old pleaded guilty to manslaughter this week in the fatal shooting of an off-duty St. Paul firefighter in his home nearly two years ago.

Dontay Lee Caraway, of St. Paul, was released from the Ramsey County jail after his plea on Tuesday and is due back in court in October for his sentencing. A plea deal calls for Caraway to receive credit for the time he served — he was in custody since his September 2019 arrest — and for a prison sentence to be stayed.

Thomas Harrigan's father said Friday that he hopes a judge hands down a longer sentence.

"It seems terribly out of balance and, in a region that's just had an explosion of violence, it seems like the wrong message to be sending," John Harrigan said.

On Sept. 2, 2019, Caraway and his brother, Blake Caraway, 38, showed up at Harrigan's house on Ivy Avenue, off White Bear Avenue.

A man told police that Dontay Caraway previously "got beat up and put out of the Ivy address because he had been caught stealing from" another man's room, according to a criminal complaint. A friend had received messages on Sept. 1, 2019, from Dontay Caraway, which said, "I need my phone from that house" and "I'm going to (expletive) them up. I hope fire man (sic) knows what he started," the complaint continued.

At the house, the Caraway brothers encountered a woman and demanded she turn over Dontay's phone. When Harrigan intervened, a man identified as Blake shot him in the chest, according to the complaint.

A jury found Blake Caraway not guilty of murder on July 30, which his attorney said was due to a "lack of credible evidence."

Dontay Caraway's trial on murder charges was scheduled to start next week, but he instead pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter — culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk. A plea deal says Caraway is to receive a sentence of 4 years and 10 months. He would not serve additional time in custody if he follows terms of probation.

"That's hard to turn down in a murder case when you could end up doing close to 30 years," said Paul Applebaum, the attorney representing Dontay Caraway. By pleading guilty to manslaughter, Caraway did not admit "any involvement in the shooting, other than sort of contributing to the chaos that surrounded the incident," Applebaum added.

Caraway knows that Harrigan's parents lost their son and are suffering, Applebaum said.

Harrigan was a St. Paul firefighter since 2013, who previously served in the U.S. Army and was a Minnesota National Guard sergeant first class. He deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2011.

It came at a cost to Harrigan, whose father wrote after he was killed that his son had "an affliction of" post-traumatic stress disorder "that plagued him to the end, and a problem of substance abuse," which he sought help for.

"For whatever problems my son had, he was a highly-decorated veteran from Iraq and Afghanistan, he earned the Bronze Star medal, which is one of the highest medals the Army gives," John Harrigan said Friday. As a paramedic for the St. Paul fire department, Thomas Harrigan "brought help to people in distress," his father added.

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(c)2021 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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