A panel of national experts has recommended Myon Burrell be released from prison immediately after he was sentenced to life in prison when he was a teenager.
Burrell, who is now 34, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in the death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. She was hit by a stray bullet while doing her homework at her dining room table in Minneapolis on Nov. 22, 2002. Burrell was 16 at the time.
There have been questions about the investigation into the case against Burrell, a Black man, which escalated following an investigative report by The Associated Press and APM Reports that found flaws in the prosecution.
The report and calls for the case to be reviewed prompted the formation in July of a panel of legal experts to look closer at the case. That panel, chaired by University of St. Thomas law professor Mark Osler, released its 59-page report on Tuesday.
The eight-member panel recommended Burrell be released immediately, citing his age at the time of the crime and good behavior during the 18 years he's spent in prison. The panel's report cited the U.S. Supreme Court, which has argued against overly harsh sentences for juveniles because research shows juveniles' brains and decision-making skills are not fully developed.
"Our conclusion was rooted in consideration of the four traditional goals of sentencing: rehabilitation, punishment, deterrence, and incapacitation, the report said. "Even assuming Burrell’s guilt, continued punishment furthers none of those goals.
"... Based on all of these circumstances, the panel believes that no purpose is served by Burrell’s continuing incarceration, and no negative fact overwhelms the imperative of freedom," the report added.
The panel said police had "tunnel vision" while investigating the case. It also concluded there were many flaws in the investigation, such as the reliance on jailhouse informants and ignoring witnesses and evidence that may have helped eliminate Burrell as a suspect.
"The record to date reveals several indications that tunnel vision was present in this case," the report said. "... Evidence supporting these theories of Burrell’s guilt appears to have been elevated, while evidence supporting his innocence was minimized, not fully explored, or, in some cases, suppressed."
The panel, though, did not address Burrell's guilt or innocence, saying Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman failed to give all the evidence they requested (the report did acknowledge they were on a tight time frame), writing in the report:
"The panel believes that further on-the-ground investigation, including witness interviews, review of police and prosecution files and tape recordings may yield additional evidence of actual innocence or due process issues. Indeed, the panel’s investigation has been constrained by lack of access to the complete police and prosecution files and lack of access to full information about the informants, including cooperation deals and information about their history of providing testimony in exchange for leniency in other cases."
Because of this, the panel "strongly" recommends Attorney General Keith Ellison's new Conviction Review Unit continues re-investigating Burrell's case.
History of the case
On Nov. 22, 2002, Tyesha was fatally shot while the intended victim, 17-year-old Timothy Oliver, was standing in front of the house next door. He was unharmed.
Three days later, two adults – Isaiah Tyson and Hans Williams – were arrested in connection to Tyesha's death. Burrell was arrested the day after that.
In December 2002, the three suspects were indicted on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder. Burrell was charged as an adult.
Williams pled guilty to second-degree murder for the benefit of a gang. Tyeson pled guilty to second-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder for the benefit of a gang.
Burrell denied any involvement from the moment he was arrested, and his case went to trial. A jury convicted him of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison plus 12 months as well as a consecutive term of 186 months for the attempted murder of Oliver.
The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the jury decision in May 2005, saying investigators failed to follow proper procedures in giving the Miranda warning. A new trial was held in April 2008, with Burrell waiving his right to have a jury. Hennepin County District Judge Charles A. Porter, Jr. found Burrell guilty.
He was sentenced to life in prison plus 60 months and a consecutive term of 186 months.
Another appeal to the state Supreme Court resulted in an opinion in 2009 that upheld the result of the trial but sent it back to be resentenced.
Burrell was sentenced a third time to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years for killing Tyesha and 15 years for the attempted murder of Oliver after the murder sentence was completed.
Burrell had no more options to appeal his sentence or conviction unless there was new evidence, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office noted.
Since Burrell was arrested in 2002, evidence in the case has shifted, the panel report states. Tyson, who testified that Burrell was the shooter, testified later saying he was the shooter and Burrell wasn't even there. Other witnesses have also retracted their claims.
In the years since calls for the case to be reviewed have increased and made national headlines as U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., campaigned for president. She faced pressure over the Burrell case because at the time of his first trial she was the Hennepin County Attorney. When The Associated Press/APM report was published, Klobuchar joined community members in calling for a review of the case.
The panel's report comes nearly two weeks after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said his office offered to reduce Burrell's 45-year sentence by 15 years.
“I have reviewed this case thoroughly and I have reached two conclusions,” Freeman said. “First, there is no question that Myon Burrell pulled the trigger that fired the fatal bullet. Second, we have learned much about the brain development of juveniles, especially juvenile males. The minimum sentence of 45 years Mr. Burrell is serving is too long. So, in the interest of justice, we have made the offer to his attorney to drop the 15-year sentence he was to serve for attempted murder after completing his 30-year sentence for Tyesha Edward’s terrible death.”
Meanwhile, Burrell is set to take his case before the state Board of Pardons next week, MPR News says, noting the panel's report could weigh into his fate at that meeting.
Burrell is currently serving out his sentence at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater.