A new legal analysis recommending the release of Myon Burrell, a Black man convicted in the 2002 shooting death of an 11-year-old Minneapolis girl, could weigh into his fate as he takes his case before the state Board of Pardons next week.
Burrell was 16 when a stray bullet hit and killed Tyesha Edwards, a Black sixth grader, as she did her homework at her dining room table. Even though Burrell was a juvenile, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
But questions have been raised about the investigation of Edwards’ shooting.
An Associated Press and APM Reports investigation earlier this year found substantial issues with Burrell’s prosecution.
That reporting, and the outcry it caused, spurred a panel of national legal experts to look more closely at Burrell's life sentence for the fatal shooting. They found that his continued incarceration doesn't serve any purpose, even assuming he was correctly convicted.
The panel was chaired by Mark Osler, a former assistant U.S. attorney and professor of law at the University of St. Thomas. The idea that young people who commit crimes are so-called “superpredators” has been widely discredited, Osler said.
“Brain science advanced from that point,” Osler said. “One thing we’ve seen is a line of Supreme Court cases that have embraced the idea that juveniles need to be sentenced differently from how adults are because they’re in a different stage of life and they’re more capable of changing.”
Panel members also looked at circumstances around Burrell’s conviction. They found deep problems with the criminal investigation and the prosecution’s use of jailhouse informants. But they didn’t have enough evidence from the county attorney’s office to come to a conclusion on whether Burrell was guilty of the crime.
Osler said the panel started its investigation by acknowledging the grief and anger that Edwards’ killing caused for her family.
“This case is an example of what we see all the time in criminal law,” he said, “which is a tragedy that can’t be undone, but we have to be careful not to magnify the tragedy.”
Burrell was first prosecuted in Hennepin County when U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was serving as county attorney. She’s called for a fresh look at the case.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said last month that he was still convinced of Burrell's guilt, but that he offered to reduce Burrell’s sentence by 15 years, making him eligible for parole after 30 years.
Reached Tuesday shortly after the report was released, Freeman told MPR News the evidence and information offered by the legal panel didn’t change his perspective on the case.
“In my view and in the court’s review on the guilt or innocence of this case, on a number of occasions, they have found that Mr. Burrell pulled the trigger. I believe that is accurate,” Freeman said.
Freeman said that the victims, Tyesha Edwards and her family, shouldn’t be forgotten when talking about Burrell’s case.
Eli Darris, an organizer for the ACLU of Minnesota, knows Burrell personally and is scheduled to testify at the Board of Pardons hearing on Tuesday.
“Seeking justice for Myon is in tandem with seeking justice for Tyesha Edwards, who was senselessly shot and murdered as she was sitting and doing her homework,” Darris said. “We want those who are responsible for her untimely death to be held accountable.”
Anyone who wants a criminal conviction to be forgiven can plead their case before the state Board of Pardons, which consists of the governor, the chief justice and the state attorney general. While Attorney General Keith Ellison declined to comment on the new report, he said the goal of the pardons board is to thoughtfully consider all evidence presented to it.
“I know that the case is important to the entire community,” Ellison said. “Certainly, it’s important to Mr. Burrell but it’s important to the Edwards family. We’re going to give consideration to the interests of everyone.”
The legal panelists are urging the state’s new Conviction Review Unit to take up Burrell’s case as well. Ellison said that unit, which is a partnership between the Innocence Project of Minnesota and his office, is just starting up.
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