Judge vacates Marvin Haynes’ nearly 20-year-old murder conviction

a man hugs two kids
Marvin Haynes walked out of the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, after a judge vacated his murder conviction for a 2004 killing. Haynes had been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Harry “Randy” Sherer in Minneapolis. Haynes was 16 at the time.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 12, 10:01 a.m. Posted on Monday, Dec. 11 at 10:40 a.m.

A judge Monday vacated the murder conviction of a Minneapolis man serving life in prison for a 2004 killing. Marvin Haynes, 36, was sentenced for the murder of Harry “Randy” Sherer in Minneapolis. Haynes was 16 at the time.

Hours after the judge’s decision, Haynes walked out of the state prison in Stillwater into the arms of family and supporters.

Man in blue T-shirt speaks at lectern
Marvin Haynes speaks to reporters at a news conference after a judge vacated his conviction for the 2004 murder of Harry "Randy" Sherer.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

“I just want to thank everybody that supported me through this whole journey. And how ya’ll can recognize that I’m actually innocent,” Haynes said. “I’m just happy that I can correct my narrative. That’s it. I’m so happy.”

In a statement, the Great North Innocence Project said Hennepin County District Judge William Koch signed the order. Koch presided over an evidentiary hearing in late November in which Haynes denied killing the flower shop employee or being in the store on that day. More testimony had been expected next week.

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“Fortunately in this case, the county attorney’s office saw that Marvin had real claims, and recognized that it would be unjust for him to be kept out of court based on procedural technicalities that have nothing to do with the merits of his claims,” said attorney Andrew Markquart, with the Great North Innocence Project.

There were no fingerprints, DNA, videos, or any other physical evidence to link Haynes to the north Minneapolis shop where Sherer, 55, was fatally shot during a robbery.

Sherer’s sister, Cynthia McDermid was working with him that day. During the initial investigation she told police that the suspect was a Black male around 180 pounds with short hair.

a man stands with two kids
Marvin Haynes walks out of the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater on Monday.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Haynes at 16 years old was 130 pounds and had long hair. Minneapolis police included him in multiple lineups, and used an outdated photo that didn’t match his appearance at the time of the killing.

Judge Koch wrote that the identification procedures that police used were “unnecessarily suggestive” and that “absent introduction of the unconstitutional eyewitness identification evidence, it is doubtful there would have been sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.”

Hennepin County Attorney Moriarty said not only did Haynes suffer injustice, but so did Sherer’s family. She said McDermid — who died in 2020 — tried in good faith to identify her brother’s killer.

“The system failed her and her family because the police never found the person responsible for the murder of their loved one,” Moriarty said.

Innocence Project attorney Markquart said even with new evidence, Minnesota law makes it extremely difficult to reopen a criminal case. He said freeing Haynes required prosecutors’ cooperation.

Woman at lectern speaks to man in T-shirt
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty apologizes to Marvin Haynes at a news conference in Minneapolis after a judge reversed Haynes' conviction for the 2004 murder of Harry "Randy" Sherer.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Haynes’ case is similar to that of Myon Burrell, another Black teen sent to prison for murder and freed many years later. Both were prosecuted in the early 2000s when U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar served as Hennepin County Attorney.

During her 2020 presidential campaign Klobuchar touted her role in the Burrell case and drew heavy criticism after the Associated Press and APM Reports raised questions about investigators’ reliance on jailhouse informants. When the Minnesota Board of Pardons commuted his sentence in 2020, Klobuchar called it “the right and just decision.”

MPR News Reporter Matt Sepic on Haynes being exonerated

Asked about Haynes’ exoneration, the senator said through a spokesperson that she “respects the judicial process,” and will continue to work closely with the Innocence Project on reforms.

The group is seeking a revision to Minnesota law that would make it easier for wrongly convicted people to get fresh evidence in front of a judge.

Haynes says he learned on his birthday last Thursday that he’d be free. He says he’ll spend time with family and start building a new life.

“I just want to get a job and get my life in order,” Haynes said. “I was in prison working for 25 cents an hour. As long as it pays, I’m willing to do it.”