Jarso Yohannes Adem received a stayed, 15-month sentence for his attack on a former girlfriend.

(Star Tribune) A Minneapolis man who threw battery acid in his ex-girlfriend’s face last year won’t spend time behind bars if he remains law-abiding.

Before getting a stayed, 15-month prison sentence Wednesday, Jarso Yohannes Adem, 29, tried to withdraw his guilty plea to second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, a felony.

He claimed he was not aware his conviction could cause him to be deported back to Ethiopia. The Minnesota Court of Appeals this week ordered that a man could withdraw his plea to simple robbery because he was not told of deportation risks.

Hennepin County District Judge Susan Robiner refused Adem’s request, saying he’d made an informed decision to plead guilty in February.

Adem was charged last September for the attack on Semira Mohammed, 31, of St. Louis Park. Charges say he approached her on the street near her home and, after she refused to talk to him, splashed battery acid on her from a bottle. She suffered burns to her face, neck and hand but was not permanently disfigured. She was not present in court.

Adem’s attorney, Mark Miller, said that although his client was informed of the law regarding his immigrant status, mental health issues including depression inhibited him from making a fully informed plea. Miller said his client’s reasoning is like that of a teenager.

“Mr. Adem seems to never quite grasp exactly what is going on,” Miller said. “He’s saying good, bad or indifferent, he would rather live with the results of a jury trial.”

Robiner said those arguments did not constitute the “fair and just” reason the law requires for a judge to sanction the withdrawal of a guilty plea.

She told Adem he had “the best defense attorney money can buy” — one who tried to get the case dismissed, tried to have Adem deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial, and negotiated a favorable plea deal with “a seasoned prosecutor,” Assistant County Attorney Charles Gerlach.

State guidelines call for at least 21 months in prison for Adem’s conviction.

“You’re an adult, and you made a decision here,” the judge said, adding that she had a “strong, strong hunch we would only be delaying the inevitable” if she allowed the plea withdrawal.

Through an interpreter, Adem expressed no remorse for the crime, saying Mohammed repeatedly lied to him.

Adem must continue to receive mental health treatment and remain law-abiding for three years to avoid prison. He also must stay away from Mohammed.

“You gotta move on,” Robiner said. “This has been nothing but disastrous for you as far as I can tell. You’re a valuable person.”

Gerlach said afterward that he does not know whether Adem will be deported. He called the plea deal “just,” given Adem’s mental health struggles and lack of criminal history.

Miller and Adem, who left the courthouse with his coat over his head, declined to comment.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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