Myon Burrell, 34, was released from state prison on Tuesday after the Minnesota Board of Pardons commuted his life sentence in a murder case that angered supporters of criminal justice reform and hampered the presidential campaign of Senator Amy Klobuchar.
An investigation by the Associated Press and U.S. public media in February revealed glaring flaws in the prosecution of an office headed by Ms. Klobuchar, then a Hennepin County lawyer. Mr Burrell was 16 when he was arrested in 2002 after an 11-year-old girl was shot in the heart by a stray bullet while doing her homework.
The council reduced Mr Burrell’s sentence to 20 years, with the remaining two years to be served on probation, according to the Associated Press. He always maintained his innocence.
One of Mr Burrell’s attorneys, Daniel Guerrero, said on Tuesday he plans to pursue avenues towards a full exoneration. He praised Mr Burrell’s release, but said his case highlighted larger loopholes in the criminal justice system.
“Myon is certainly not the only innocent person we have in our prison system here in this country,” Mr. Guerrero said. “Our jury system is good, but it’s definitely not foolproof.”
According to the Associated Press investigation, there was no hard evidence, such as DNA or fingerprints, that linked Mr. Burrell directly to the shooting, to which another man later confessed. Video evidence showed that the homicide detective in the case offered a man $ 500 to provide Mr. Burrell’s name.
The investigation also found that police failed to collect surveillance footage from a convenience store that Mr Burrell said could have proven his innocence. The store, Cup Foods, was the same one outside which George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers in May.
Mr Burrell requested confidentiality after his release on Tuesday, another of his lawyers said. He walked out of prison to the sound of drums, briefly raising his fist to a group of supporters who cheered him and crowded around him.
“I can’t imagine for a minute how it must have felt for him,” said attorney Perry Moriearty, who was with Mr. Burrell when he left the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater in Bayport, Minn. to come home to your family and live simply – it’s been a very long time.
While before the pardons commission, according to the Associated Press, Mr. Burrell spoke of his time in prison: “I started going in and extracting drugs from the poison. The trials and tribulations that I was going through, I tried to get something out of it.
Mr Burrell had twice been convicted of the murder of Tyesha Edwards, who was in sixth grade when she was shot while doing her homework and watching television at her family’s home in South Minneapolis. Gov. Tim Walz, who recommended switching Mr Burrell, told his family during Tuesday’s hearing that “there is nothing I can do to ease your pain, and it will not be improved,” according to the Associated Press.
“But we must act today to recognize that the law in this area has changed,” he told the family. “Justice is not served by imprisoning a child all his life for a horrible mistake made many years ago.”
Ms Edwards’ father and brother told The Associated Press that they oppose Mr Burrell’s release. The Hennepin County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment, and Ms. Klobuchar did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms Klobuchar, who took a harsh anti-crime message while trying to appeal to moderate voters in the Democratic presidential primary, has been criticized by civil rights advocates and black community leaders after the investigation Associated Press.
She was the Hennepin County attorney for eight years, including when Mr. Burrell was first convicted by the office in 2003. That conviction was later overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which said an inadmissible statement by Mr. Burrell was used at trial.