The release of a prisoner who has maintained his innocence while serving a life sentence for murder in Minnesota since he was a teenager drew attention to the questionable circumstances surrounding his case and conviction. Myon Burrell was freed Tuesday night after media organizations reported there was new evidence that all but exonerates him in the killing of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards in 2002.
He was charged when he was just 16 years old and prosecuted by then-Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar. Burrell has long suggested Klobuchar didn’t investigate his case thoroughly enough and blames the now-sitting U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate for being the “source of everything that happened, with her charging me.”
The Associated Press, one of the media organizations that investigated Burrell’s case and uncovered information determining his conviction was “flawed,” reported that Burrell expressed both relief and empathy Tuesday night.
He said he was “not in any way, shape or form … trying to minimize the tragedy of the loss of” Edwards. Instead, he said, “I come before you, a 34-year-old man who spent more than half of his life incarcerated for a crime I didn’t commit.”
Edwards was killed in her home when a stray bullet hit her while she was sitting at a table doing homework. She died the same day. The Hennepin County Attorney’s office described Burrell as a “gang member” and suggested he fired the fatal shot that was intended for a rival.
But at the time of the murder investigation, the lead homicide detective offered “major dollars” for names while evidence was limited. There were no fingerprints, no gun or any DNA. Key evidence that could have helped the case had gone missing or was never obtained, including a convenience store surveillance tape that Burrell says would have cleared his name.
Even Burrell’s co-defendants have admitted their part in Edwards’ death, saying Burrell wasn’t even present. For years, one co-defendant in particular — Ike Tyson — said that he was actually the person who pulled the trigger. Authorities wouldn’t believe him because he gave contradicting accounts earlier in the investigation, but Tyson says he was just trying to get the cops off his back.
“I already shot an innocent girl,” Tyson, who is serving a 45-year sentence, explained earlier this year. “Now an innocent guy — at the time he was a kid — is locked up for something he didn’t do. So, it’s like I’m carrying two burdens.”
Burrell pointed his finger directly at Klobuchar for what he feels was his wrongful conviction.
“The district attorney’s job is … to either charge or not charge,” Burrell said earlier this year before directly addressing Klobuchar: “You never took the time to look into this case. You never took the time to go and actually see, is this true or is this false.”
He added: “She gave the police free rein and just said, ‘bring me back a conviction, secure me a conviction’ and that’s what they did, by any means necessary.”
Nearly 20 years later, Klobuchar expressed an urgency for the case that Burrell suggested was missing when she was the Hennepin County Attorney.
“As I’ve said before, this case should be reviewed immediately,” Klobuchar, who was running for president at the time, told CNN in February. “This was about an 11-year-old girl, Tyesha Edwards, who was killed while she was sitting at her kitchen table doing her homework. And as a prosecutor, our job is to convict the guilty and protect the innocent. So if any evidence was not put forward or was not appropriately investigated or if new evidence has emerged that should have been discovered at the time, it must be reviewed.”
Notably, Klobuchar suspended her presidential campaign in early March, less than two weeks after Burrell’s media blitz.
Not only did the court look over the case, so did the Associated Press and American Public Media, the two organizations credited with securing Burrell’s freedom Tuesday night. The Minnesota Board of Pardons voted to commute Burrell’s life sentence to 20 years and allowed him to serve the final two years on supervised release.
“While this board is not a fact finder, it does have the power to determine when justice is served through the power of clemency and mercy,” Gov. Tim Walz, who is also on the Minnesota Board of Pardons, said in a brief statement. “We cannot turn a blind eye to the developments in science and law as we look at this case.”
Burrell has been adamant about his conviction all along and got emotional during an interview with ABC News when he was discussing the Associated Press’ work on his behalf.
“Because all of these years I’ve been in here and I’ve been screaming and I’ve been telling people that I’m innocent and I’m not supposed to be here but my voice was never heard,” he told the TV network earlier this year. “I’ve been in here since I was a teen. All of my twenties, my thirties. I’ll be 34 years old next month, you know what I mean? So it’s like, I’ll never be able to get that back.”
As of Wednesday morning, Klobuchar had not issued a statement about Burrell’s newfound freedom.