Free at last—Myon Burrell is coming home

Photo by King Demetrius Pendleton Myon Burrell first step to freedom


Editor’s Note: A portion of this story was constructed before Myon Burrell’s hearing before the Minnesota Board of Pardons hearing Tuesday.

Myon Burrell 34, who has spent the last 18 years of his life for a crime he insists he did not commit, may be home as soon as Tuesday night. The Minnesota Board of Pardons Tuesday voted unanimously to commute his life sentence to 20 years. Since he has already served 18 years, he will serve the remainder of his sentence on supervised release.

“I tried to extract some medicine out of the poison,” Burrell said when making his case to the
board. Before making his recommendation, Governor Walz made reference to Burrell’s quote, and said, “It’s clear to me you have the power to make a difference.”

Governor Walz made the proposal that Burrell’s sentence be reduced to 20 years
after hearing impassioned testimony from activist Elizer Darris and Perry Moriearty, University of Minnesota professor of law, who filed the commutation request. Walz and Minnesota Attorney General
Keith Ellison voted to have him released. The third voting member, MN Supreme Court Chief
Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea recused herself because of her previous association with the case.

Myon Burrell at press a conference after being released from prison
Photo by King Demetrius Pendleton

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This is a bittersweet victory of sorts as friends, family and supporters sought to have Burrell come
home with no strings attached.

Burrell was given a life sentence at the age of 16 for the killing of 11-year-old Tyesha
Edwards, who was hit by a stray bullet while sitting in her home in November 2002. He was also
convicted of attempted murder for allegedly attempting to kill Tim Oliver who was the intended
victim of the shooting that took Edwards’ life.

Legal experts declared that he should go free last week

The controversial murder conviction of then-juvenile Myon took a new turn last week as a
panel of legal experts commissioned in July to look into his case concluded that he should be set
free.

While the panel stopped short of declaring Burrell innocent, it concluded that no purpose is
served by his continued incarceration.

“It was powerful and refreshing to hear that the panel of prominent legal experts who
undertook extensive review of Myon Burrell’s case echoed calls from Myon’s family and the
community for his immediate release,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, who along with her
Racial Justice Network organization has worked to bring attention to this case.

“The justice system failed Myon at every turn, including treating him like a grown man when
he was just a child. As it stands, Myon has spent nearly two decades behind bars for a crime he
did not commit.

“He has suffered enough,” Levy Armstrong said, “and he deserves to get his life back.”
The independent investigation comes on the heels of community and national pressure
brought to bear by the Black community and activists such as Levy Armstrong on Senator Amy
Klobuchar, who was Hennepin County prosecutor at the time of Burrell’s first conviction.

Klobuchar had been bragging about Burrell’s conviction, even using it in her campaign for
the Democratic presidential nomination. But her continued usage of Edwards’ murder case to
demonstrate her “tough on crime” bona fides while on the presidential campaign trail opened the
door to lingering questions about Burrell’s innocence.

Associated Press reporter Robin McDowell raised serious doubts in February with her well-
researched article, “Amy Klobuchar helped jail teen for life but case was flawed,” which came to
some of the same conclusions as the panel.

The AP article brought a national focus on the case as other major media outlets focused on
the fact that Burrell was convicted without any solid evidence. There was no gun, fingerprints or
DNA pointing to Burrell, only jailhouse snitches and the intended target of the shooting, Tim
Oliver, who initially testified that he was hiding after ducking down behind a wall.

Doubts about the imprisoned juvenile were raised until they reached a near crescendo near
the end of Klobuchar’s campaign for president when advocates of Burrell’s innocence shut down
her campaign appearance in St. Louis Park.

Klobuchar apparently bowed to the pressure. After meeting with Burrell’s family, she asked
Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman in March to open an investigation into the case. At
that point the experts agreed to convene a panel, and the Minnesota State Attorney General’s
Office agreed to further investigate the case.

The eight-member panel contends in its report that they were unable to address Burrell’s guilt
or innocence, partially because Freeman failed to turn over all of the prosecution’s evidence to
the panel despite previously agreeing to do so.

Freeman released his own report of sorts on Thanksgiving ahead of this anticipated
announcement with a press release saying he was interested in taking 15 years off Burrell’s life
sentence. At the same time he declared, “There is no question that Myon Burrell pulled the
trigger that fired the fatal bullet.”

According to one of the panelists Maria Hawilo, distinguished professor of law at Loyola
University Chicago, the panel sought to examine the integrity of the conviction and the integrity
of the sentence. Another panelist, Mark Osler, professor of law at the University of St. Thomas,
wrote in a recent editorial that the Burrell case had to be put in context.

“The period leading up to Burrell’s arrest in 2002 was marked by racially charged
fearmongering about young ‘super-predators’ who would be violent for the entirety of their lives.
Mandatory minimums and other harsh sentencing tools were increasingly used against child
offenders, in a belief that they were incapable of change,” wrote Osler in a commentary that
appeared in the Star Tribune last weekend.

“When my son told me he was innocent, I believed him,” said Burrell’s father Michael
Toussaint. “The family regrets the facts that there will always be doubters in this case. People
who had nothing to gain came forward and said that they lied on him in 2008. My son deserves
the life that was taken from him. If he gets out of jail it is because he earned the right to be free.”

The panelist’s report acknowledged troubling problems with the case, including what they
termed “tunnel vision” relating to Burrell’s guilt or innocence and “confirmation bias” by the
investigators.

About Mel Reeves

Mel Reeves is the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He welcomes reader responses at mreeves@spokesman-recorder.com. Find his personal blog at fighthepowerjournal.com.

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