Legal Experts Review Black Minnesota Teen’s Life Sentence

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2020, file photo, Myon Burrell sits inside his cell at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater, Minn. An independent panel of national legal experts will review the conviction of Burrell, who was a teenager when sentenced to life in prison nearly two decades ago for the murder of little girl struck by a stray bullet while studying in her south Minneapolis home, Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and the New York-based Innocence Project announced Monday, July 13, 2020.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – “In the end, CIUs often ask the question after reviewing all the evidence, ‘if we had known all of this at the time we charged the defendant, would we have arrested him in the first place?’”

Nirider, a Minnesota native, who represents innocent juveniles and those widely considered to be wrongfully convicted, including Brendan Dassey, subject of the Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” said the panel is filled with some of the country’s top legal minds, including a former state attorney general, the leader of one of the first Conviction Integrity Units in the country, and the past president of the national Innocence Network.

The effort, she said, was undertaken with the support of several Minnesota organizations, including the Minneapolis NAACP, the Innocence Project of Minnesota, and the ACLU of Minnesota and panel members.

The death of George Floyd — who was killed by police in May at a south Minneapolis corner store just three blocks from where Tyesha was shot — has put a spotlight on Minnesota and its long history of racial injustice.

Many members of the state’s African American community feel the system is stacked against them, from the time of their arrest and charges filed, to the length of their sentences.

The 1990s and 2000s resulted in the highest rate of incarceration ever seen in America, and young Black men were disproportionately affected.

A largely discredited theory about a remorseless, teen criminals — dubbed “superpredators” — resulted in a tripling of the number of youths thrown into adult facilities, thousands of them sentenced to life. The vast majority were African American. While that trend has started to reverse, those already convicted remain in prison where many will likely die.

Perry Moriearty, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, said the state has long prided itself on having a progressive penal system, but that is not true when it comes to the punishment of young African American males.

Burrell, 16 at the time of Tyesha’s killing, has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence saying he was not even at the scene.

A yearlong AP investigation found there was no hard evidence — no gun, fingerprints, DNA — linking him to the crime.

Surveillance tape that Burrell told police would clear him was never pulled from Cup Food, the same store that called the police on George Floyd for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Much of the state’s case relied on jailhouse informants, several of whom have since recanted. And another man has admitted to the shooting, saying Burrell was not even present.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Offices said in a statement Monday it has been cooperating with Burrell’s current attorney for nearly two years and will continue to be responsive to the panel’s advisors.

Klobuchar, meanwhile, she has been advocating for a review for months.

“As I told Mr. Burrell’s family earlier this year, if any injustice was done in the quest for justice for Tyesha Edwards, it must be addressed,” she said in an emailed statement. “This investigation is an important step forward and I fully support the work of this distinguished panel.”

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