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Minnesota Decides to Free Myon Burrell

The 34-year-old was sentenced to life as a juvenile
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 16, 2020 9:45 AM CST

(Newser) – A Black Minnesota man sent to prison for life as a teenager took his first steps of freedom Tuesday to the sound of ringing bells and cheering family members and supporters, hours after a pardons board commuted his sentence in a high-profile murder case. Myon Burrell's prosecution and harsh punishment raised questions about the integrity of the criminal justice system that put him away nearly two decades ago for the death of a young Minneapolis girl killed by a stray bullet. What you need to know about the case and the decision to free the 34-year-old:

  • Earlier this year, the AP and APM Reports uncovered new evidence and serious flaws in the police investigation, ultimately leading to the creation of an independent national legal panel to review the case. Last week, panel members published their findings, raising many of the same concerns, including that police had "tunnel vision" while pursuing Burrell as a suspect.
  • Burrell has always maintained his innocence in the 2002 killing of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, struck in the heart while doing homework at the dining room table. The Star Tribune reports that rival gang members supplied his name to police. The yearlong investigation by the AP showed there was no hard evidence—no gun, DNA, or fingerprints—tying Burrell to the shooting. Among other things, police didn't collect a corner store's surveillance video, which Burrell said could have cleared him; he maintains he was playing video games with a friend and went to the store for snacks.

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  • Further, video footage showed the lead homicide detective offering a man in police custody $500 for Burrell's name, even if it was just hearsay. Officers relied heavily on jailhouse informants, who benefited generously for testifying. One had his 16-year prison sentence cut to three. Burrell's co-defendants said the then-16-year-old wasn't at the scene that day. And one, Isaiah Tyson, admitted to being the shooter.
  • NPR adds that during a three-hour police interrogation, the teen asked for his mother 13 times but didn't ask for a lawyer.
  • Burrell's request for a pardon was denied. But it was the first time in at least 22 years that Minnesota commuted a sentence in a murder case, according to the Department of Corrections. The Star Tribune reports it was commuted to 20 years, with Burrell set to serve his final two years on supervised release. Tyesha's family opposed the move.
  • A big name linked to the case: Amy Klobuchar, who then headed the county attorney's office. She has used Burrell's conviction over the years as an example of her tough-on-crime policies, most recently during a Democratic presidential primary debate last year. Klobuchar released a statement Tuesday saying the pardon board made the right decision. She also urged a conviction-review unit to continue investigating the facts.
(Read more commutation stories.)

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