Minnesota frees man serving life in kid’s 2002 demise
BAYPORT, Minn. – Minnesota’s pardons board Tuesday rescued a black man who was jailed for life as a teenager in a high-profile murder case that raises questions about the integrity of the criminal justice system that is sending him away.
The Myon Burrell case hit the headlines earlier this year after The Associated Press and American Public Media exposed new evidence and serious flaws in the police investigation into the 2002 murder of an 11-year-old girl who was doing homework by a Scatter ball was hit dining room table.
Burrell left a state prison after the Minnesota Pardons Department decided to convert his sentence to 20 years. The remaining two years should be released under supervision. Several supporters had gathered to greet him.
Burrell, who was 16 when he was convicted, got emotional after the vote, put his hand on his head and said, “Thank you, thank you. I appreciate it.”
Burrell had asked the board for forgiveness and conversion to the time already served. He said the request was “in no way, shape, or form of mine to minimize the tragedy of losing” Tysha Edwards. “I come before you, a 34-year-old man who has been imprisoned for more than half of his life for a crime I did not commit.”
He talked about not knowing what was going on when he was convicted. He said he converted to Islam and became a religious leader in prison.
“I tried to make the best of my situation,” he said. “I started extracting drugs from the poison. With the trials and difficulties I’ve been through, I’ve tried to make something of it. “
His request was accompanied by testimony from community leaders and letters from young men in prison confirming his strong character and moral leadership behind bars.
“I was just trying to be the best person I could hope to have the opportunity to one day go home and live as a productive member of society,” Burrell told the panel on a video conference from inside Jail.
Jimmie Edwards III, Tyesha’s brother, told the AP that he and his family are upset with the decision. He said his family’s judicial system had failed and media coverage and support for Burrell’s release overshadowed his sister’s death.
“She never had to go to her prom. She never had to go to college. She was never allowed to go to junior high school or high school, ”he said. “Your life was taken away at 11 am. Who is the victim?”
Governor Tim Walz, a board member, recommended the converted ruling. He said science found it and the US Supreme Court ruled that adolescent minds function differently than adults and that life imprisonment is too extreme for a teenager.
“Although this body is not a fact-finder, it has the power to determine when justice is served by the power of grace and compassion,” said Walz, adding, “We cannot ignore developments in science and law. We will see this case at. “
Last week, an independent panel of national legal experts also recommended Burrell’s immediate release after verifying the facts and any available evidence.
Burrell was convicted of the murder of Tyesha, a black sixth grader who was shot in the heart at her family home in South Minneapolis. He always kept his innocence and another man has confessed to being the Sagittarius.
Turned to the Edwards family during the hearing, Walz said, “We are not here to condemn the crime against your family that took your daughter away. There is nothing I can do to relieve your pain and it won’t get better. But we must act today to recognize that the law has changed in this area. Justice will not be served by imprisoning a child for a lifetime for a terrible mistake committed many years ago. “
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who was the city’s chief prosecutor at the time of the murder, has used Burrell’s convictions throughout her political career to announce her crime-fighting record. She brought it up again last year on the stage of the Democratic President’s main debate.
Years of investigation by the AP revealed that there was no clear evidence – no gun, DNA, or fingerprints – linking Burrell to the shooting. Among other things, police did not collect surveillance video of a store that Burrell said could have evacuated. And video footage showed the chief homicide officer offering a man in custody $ 500 for Burrell’s name, even if it was just hearsay.
Burrell’s co-defendants said the teen was absent that day.
Klobuchar released a statement that the board made the right decision. She also called on a conviction review unit to further investigate the facts.
New questions about Burrell’s case surfaced just before Minneapolis came into the national spotlight after a supermarket police officer pressed his knee to George Floyd’s neck as Floyd gasped for breath. It was the same Cup Foods place that Burrell said he could have provided his alibi if surveillance tapes had been pulled.
Floyd’s death sparked protests against racial injustices and re-focused on some law enforcement practices from the 1990s and early 2000s, when tougher policing and tougher convictions resulted in the highest prison rates in the country’s history. These incarcerations hit the black and brown communities hardest.
Under public pressure following the AP report, Klobuchar threw her support behind the creation of the independent body, saying it was just as important to protect the innocent as it was to punish the guilty. In its report, the panel expressed concerns about the police investigation, which mirrors many of those uncovered by the AP.
The panel’s report states that officers suffered “tunnel vision” while pursuing Burrell as a suspect, seeking evidence to support their theory of guilt, and ignoring what might have helped him. The officers relied heavily on a single eyewitness who offered conflicting reports and on informants from the prison who benefited generously from the testimony.
Two of the informants have since withdrawn. One had reduced his 16-year sentence to three. Another said he was cooperating with the police on 14 other cases.
The panel said there was no point in keeping Burrell locked up. It pointed to his age at the time of the crime, said he had no prior records and that he behaved well behind bars. She also cited judgments by the US Supreme Court in recent years that spoke against overly harsh sentences for teenagers because their brains and decision-making skills are not fully developed.
“In examining the verdict, we became deeply aware of how our nation has changed in the way we view youth entangled in the criminal justice system,” wrote Mark Osler, chairman of the panel, last weekend in Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Burrell was imprisoned at a time “characterized by a racially motivated fear of young” super-predators “who would be violent all their lives,” wrote Osler.
Edwards III, Tyesha’s brother, said news of Burrell’s release was particularly difficult after his mother’s death last year.
“When she lost our sister, it took her away. She could never recover, ”he said of his mother. “I’m glad my mother isn’t here to see it because it would just break her heart.”