Des Moines teen gets life in mistaken 2021 killing of man who wasn't part of gang dispute

  • In US
  • 2022-12-01 11:30:40Z
  • By The Des Moines Register

A Des Moines teen who pleaded guilty to killing an innocent third party in a gang-related shooting was admonished Wednesday by a relative of the victim for having "successfully continued the cycle of traumatic, broken black males."

Danil Deng, 18, received a life term for the Aug. 30, 2021, shooting of Frederick McCuller II. He will be eligible for parole after 50 years, but Judge Heather Lauber ordered that mandatory minimum term to run consecutive to the 12 1/2-year minimum sentence Deng already is serving for a robbery committed the same day McCuller was killed.

According to court filings, Deng and a friend fired at least 17 shots toward McCuller and two other men who they encountered in the 1400 block of E. 17th St. All three were wounded, and McCuller died of his injuries. The shooting came about an hour after Deng and two others robbed another man in Prospect Park. Deng separately pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery.

Previously:Des Moines teenager charged with murder after deadly shooting

In court Wednesday, attorneys said Deng, who was part of a gang, opened fire seeking revenge for another shooting five days earlier that targeted his mother's home. McCuller, however, is not believed to have been involved in the gang dispute, prosecutors said.

McCuller's family described him in court as an outgoing friend, a trusted confidant, a talented barber, and a rock of stability whose loss has left a hole in their lives. Marla McCuller, his sister, told the court that Frederick had been a father figure to her own sons, and drew comparisons to testimony about Deng lacking a father in his own life.

"You have successfully continued the cycle of traumatic, broken black males. You speak of being fatherless. My sons are now fatherless," she told Deng. "... They are angry, they are acting out, and me as a mother, a single mother like your mother working, trying to provide for you, now have to work even harder to make sure they don't end up like you."

Deng can request parole in 62 1/2 years

Deng pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence, but Iowa and U.S. Supreme Court precedents have held it unconstitutional to impose a mandatory sentence of life without parole on juveniles. Because Deng was 17 at the time of Frederick McCuller's death, his attorney argued for a lesser mandatory minimum of 12 1/2 years, overlapping the sentence he currently is serving for the robbery.

"He will only get out if and when the parole board says he is ready, but we ask the court to give him the opportunity to have the parole board make that determination in the future," the attorney, Amy Kepes, told the judge.

More:Jury finds two men not guilty in July murder of Sean Chapman

Prosecutors argued for the longer sentence. Urging Lauber to impose the 50-year minimum term and consecutive sentences, Assistant Polk County Attorney Dan Voogt said Deng presents "a high risk for future violence."

"He may be sorry he shot the completely wrong person, but that doesn't change anything," Voogt said. "This was a crime that was based on revenge and retribution, and there's nothing we've heard this morning that changes any of that."

Although police believe two shooters were involved, Deng is so far the only one to be convicted. Prosecutors initially charged Mohanad Ishag, another participant in the Prospect Park robbery, with murder and attempted murder alongside Deng, but the state dropped those charges in October 2021, saying in court filings that "exculpatory evidence has been discovered" regarding him. Ishag is currently serving a sentence of up to 25 years for the robbery.

Following Wedneday's hearing, prosecutors declined to comment on whether they expect more charges.

Regardless of Deng's sentence, McCuller's family said the world was diminished by his death.

"Fred was a mentor to our young men, those young men. The crazy thing is, he would have been a mentor to you," his aunt, Lethia Alarcon, told Deng. "... Fred had a purpose in this world, and he was on a path to fulfilling that, but you took that away."

More:Tony Arterberry convicted in girlfriend Rhonda Howard's brutal murder

William Morris covers courts for the Des Moines Register. He can be contacted at, 715-573-8166 or on Twitter at @DMRMorris.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: 18-year-old receives life sentence for mistaken Des Moines killing


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