A Black man who was sentenced to life in prison as an adolescent for murder went free Tuesday (Dec. 14) after the Minnesota pardon board agreed to a commutation, the Associated Press reported. But the case brought skepticism about the criminal justice system that incarcerated him.
Myon Burrell, 34, was convicted of the 2002 shooting death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, who was killed by a stray bullet while in her family’s Minneapolis home doing homework. He was 16 at the time. Rival gang members had identified him to police as the one who fired the fatal shots. But he had always insisted that he was innocent, and reviews of the case showed that to be true.
Gov. Tim Walz commuted his sentence to 20 years after his case was heard by the Minnesota Board of Pardons.
"I can't express my gratitude for all my supporters," he said to a crowd before entering a car waiting to take him away from the prison he’d been in, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "We're fighting for justice. There's too much injustice going on."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the former 2020 presidential candidate, was the prosecutor who put Burrell in prison and built her political career on that conviction, mentioning it many times in her tough-on-crime approach. However, there had always been questions over whether Burrell had pulled the trigger.
An investigation by the Associated Press and American Public Media found that there were serious problems with the police work done in Burrell’s case. There was no evidence like DNA or fingerprints connecting him with the shooting. Also, police failed to obtain a corner store’s security video, which Burell has argued could have exonerated him. In addition, a video exists of a homicide detective offering a man held by police $500 to give up Burrell’s name, even without him knowing for sure of his guilt.
In fact, it led to the creation of an independent national legal panel to review it, according to the AP. Klobuchar herself started supporting the panel when her role in convicting someone who could be innocent was pointed out. Last week, the panel released its findings and said there was a “failure to investigate that illustrates tunnel vision” and evidence that could have prevented Burrell from being imprisoned was essentially ignored.
The panel said that there was no reason to keep Burrell in prison any further. The commutation to 20 years meant he had already served his sentence. He requested a pardon, but it was denied and he will still be under supervised release for two years. But his sentence was commuted, the first time that has happened in a murder case in 22 years.
Burrell’s attorney Daniel Guerrero, will file paperwork next year requesting that a judge dismiss his convictions, according to the Star-Tribune.
(Photo by Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via Getty Images)