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Amreya Shefa, battered wife and convicted killer, fears she'll be murdered if deported to Ethiopia

A judge believed that Amreya Shefa had been repeatedly beaten and sexually abused. But that didn't negate what police found at her Richfield apartment.

A judge believed that Amreya Shefa had been repeatedly beaten and sexually abused. But that didn't negate what police found at her Richfield apartment. Hennepin County Sheriff

In 2006, Habibi Tesema of Richfield went back to Ethiopia to search for a wife.

It's never been uncommon for immigrants to return to their homelands to find a mate, someone who shares their culture and values. It's also not uncommon for some to bypass independent American women, preferring a bride who adheres to their domestic rule.

As Amreya Shefa tells it, her new husband was decidedly among the latter.

She was divorced with a child when they met. They were married before the calendar changed months. It would take six years and two kids before she finally arrived in America, but the honeymoon period never arrived.

Shefa would later tell police that she was trapped in the quintessential abusive marriage. She was repeatedly beaten over shortcomings in the way she cooked and cleaned, and forced to perform unwanted sex acts, she claims. Tesema threatened to take the kids if she didn't acquiesce. But since she spoke no English nor had any means of support, there was no way to escape.

It would take only a year for matters to come to a head.

On a December night in 2013, Shefa claims her husband was drunk and high and threatening to rape her. She stabbed him, then called 911. Police found him naked and dead in the bathtub. As she would later tell a detective, “I am not even afraid of Allah as I am afraid of” Tesema.

But she also admitted that if she refused his entreaties, Tesema had threatened to have sex with another woman. That left the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to see jealousy, not fear.

The evidence came from his body lying in the Richfield apartment. Tesema had been knifed 30 times. This was not an act of defense, prosecutors reasoned. This was one of rage.

She was charged with second-degree murder. Tesema's relatives claimed they never saw signs of abuse, and prosecutor Cheri Townsend implied she merely wanted out of loving marriage, upset over Tesema's wish to have a threesome with another woman.

Yet Hennepin County Judge Elizabeth Cutter largely believed her story. The evidence suggested consistent abuse, and Tesema's family's claims of his sainthood seemed suspect.

But there remained the matter of those 30 stab wounds. In a purely defensive moment, a drunk and high man need not be knifed 30 times to be diminished as a threat. She was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to just short of five years.

Though Shefa was released from prison last fall, her incarceration wasn't over. Federal immigration officials sent her to the Kandiyohi County Jail as the first step to deportation.

She believes this would amount to a death sentence. If she's returned to Ethiopia, Tesema's family will seek revenge.

Her last hope, it would seem, is a pardon from the state. That decision is in the hands of Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, and requires a unanimous vote. Shefa's chances appear slim.

At a hearing this week, Gildea expressed skepticism.

"I don't support the pardon," she said. "As the district court said at sentencing, and I'll just quote, 'You had alternatives to you that night. You were aware of what the alternatives were that you could have taken, but you chose not to.'"

Shefa's long-held hope of a new, better life in America seems to have finally come to an end.