National exposure of the case suggests overzealous prosecution
“Did Amy Klobuchar Send an Innocent Teenager to Life in Prison?” was Democracy Now’s headline last week in a segment that re-examined the senator’s role in what some are calling the frame-up of then-16-year-old Myon Burrell for the 2002 unintentional killing of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards.
It is ironic that the Burrell case has come back to haunt U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar. The presidential candidate used the teenager’s conviction as proof of being tough on crime in her Senate campaign in 2006. In her recent campaign for president, she used it to portray herself as responsive to the Black community.
The ACLU of Minnesota called for an immediate investigation into the Burrell case last Friday.
“Myon Burrell has spent his entire adult life behind bars for a crime it appears he likely did not commit, and that’s a gross miscarriage of justice,” said ACLU-MN Executive Director John Gordon. “Not only was there no physical evidence tying him to the scene, the AP investigation shows officials made no real attempt to investigate Burrell’s alibi, or to listen to co-defendants who said Burrell wasn’t even there. Instead, officials sought out jail informants, who got reduced time out of the deal, and informants they paid.
“Burrell’s case provides a clear and disappointing example of what happens when officials settle on someone as a suspect, and – at best – ignore all conflicting evidence and clear alibis,” Gordon said. “This happens all too often to Black and Brown people at every stage of our criminal justice system, leading to staggering disparities that do not serve true justice.”
Associated Press reporter Robin McDowell conducted a near month-long examination into the prosecution and conviction of Burrell by Klobuchar that resulted in her publishing a widely released investigative story. As a result lots of attention have been brought to the case.
“Amy Klobuchar has exploited this case,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong in an interview with Democracy Now last week. “She has exploited the tragic death of Tyesha Edwards, the 11-year-old child who was killed in this situation through an accidental shooting outside of her home.
“And she exploited Myon Burrell, using his name or using this case repeatedly throughout her career and to bolster her career,” Levy Armstrong said. “As a matter of fact, when she ran for the Senate in 2006, she put forward a commercial that included Tyesha’s mother and other victims of crime, demonstrating that she was tough on crime.”
Democracy Now interviewer Amy Goodman asked Levy Armstrong if Burrell was interested in accepting a deal. “He is a strong man of faith,” she responded, “and he does not believe that he should have to plead guilty to a crime for which he did not commit.”
A salient point that has been overlooked in the Edwards case is that the person who killed her was not trying to do so, nor even aiming at her. It was an accident, but it appears that the resulting uproar allowed the county attorney’s office to charge the suspects at the time with murder rather than manslaughter, which would seem to have been the more appropriate charge.
The Democracy Now story followed on the heels of Sunny Hostin’s take-down interview of Klobuchar on “The View” last week. Klobuchar’s prosecutorial record was called into account by Hostin, one of the hosts on the show. Klobuchar was called out for over-prosecuting Black and Brown folks and failing to prosecute a single cop in the nearly two dozen police killings that took place under her watch.
When she was asked quite pointedly by Hostin, “What do you intend to do to right this wrong?” Klobuchar refused to give a definitive answer, saying she would review the case but stopping short of agreeing to do all that she could to ensure that justice prevails in Burrell’s case. She said she has called on the Hennepin County Prosecutor’s office and the courts to look into it, but her initial statements about the case offered intervention only if new evidence were presented.
Last Sunday, ABC News Martha Raddaz in an interview told Klobuchar that the chairman of the South Carolina Black Caucus talked to her about Klobuchar’s record in Minnesota particularly the Burrell case. After being pressed by Raddaz, Klobuchar, who previously said the case should be reviewed if there was new evidence, said, “I wasn’t aware of that information, the new information, until this latest investigation [AP story], the case must be reviewed.” She admitted that the old evidence should be reviewed as well.
Incidentally, before her Sunday interview, the senator had stated publicly that she had insisted that the case be reviewed, but there is no record of her making inquiries about the case or advocating for the Hennepin County Attorney’s office to actively reexamine it. The AP has said that it sought to meet with Klobuchar to discuss the case but she refused.
New York-based criminal defense attorney Rebecca Kavanagh and legal analyst, said the AP story did not uncover new evidence that exonerates Burrell. “Rather, it exposed how the very evidence that Amy Klobuchar used to convict him was tainted and that her office ignored overwhelming evidence of his innocence,” she said.
If she does, in fact, as she said in her “The View” interview “care so much about justice,” then taking responsibility for her past actions, such as acknowledging a possible miscarriage of justice in the Burrell case, could be an opportunity for her to set the record straight and reassure Black folks that she sincerely holds sacred the notion of equal justice for all.
“If you’re polling so low with Black voters, your pathway to the presidency is limited, if not completely obstructed. If Klobuchar is serious about becoming president, she needs to seriously reckon with her past,” wrote Joe Jurado in theroot.com, likely echoing the sentiment of many African Americans concerned about Klobuchar’s handling of this case and what it might say about her candidacy.
See video of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s interview on “The View” and transcript below.
Hostin: “I reviewed the facts of the case it is one of the most flawed investigations and prosecutions that I think that I have ever seen. You have your homicide detective on tape offering informants $500 apiece for names. I saw his alibi. Witnesses were not looked at. The surveillance tapes were not looked at. How do you defend something like that to someone like me who is the mother of a Black boy, a Black teenager? This case would be my worst nightmare.”
Klobuchar: “Well, Sunny, I will start with this: I have been very clear. All of the evidence needs to be immediately reviewed in that case. The past evidence and any new evidence that has come forward—I have called for that… And I think that you and I share that background…. I have always believed the job of the prosecutor is to protect the innocent and convict the guilty. To protect the innocent has to be key… Any prosecutor who cares about justice—and I have always been on the side of justice—would say all evidence must be reviewed immediately. And that’s what I think has to happen here. Thank you for bringing it up.”
Sunny: “Well you are a U.S. Senator now; you are a powerful woman. What do you intend to do to right this wrong?”
Klobuchar: “Well, I have called for the office and the courts to review the evidence, that is what we must do in the justice system. I have also worked extensively with the Innocence Project in my previous job and we reviewed all of the serious cases we had that involved DNA evidence—this one didn’t.”
Hostin: “It had no gun; it had no DNA evidence; it had no fingerprints.”
Klobuchar: “Exactly. It must be reviewed. Sunny, I think you know that I care so much about justice and this case must be reviewed.”
The MSR will continue to follow the case of Myon Burrell as it develops.