MINNEAPOLIS — Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is offering to reduce the sentence of a man convicted of killing a young girl as she did her homework, but says it has nothing to do with guilt or innocence.
Myon Burrell was just 16 in November of 2002, when he was accused of shooting and killing 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards as she sat at her family's kitchen table. He was convicted of the killing and sentenced to the minimum of 45 years in prison.
Burrell appealed and the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the conviction, saying Minneapolis Police failed to follow procedure in giving the teen his Miranda warning. He was tried again in 2008, and convicted by a judge. Burrell appealed and lost.
In recent years, however, an Associated Press investigation raised questions about inconsistencies with the case, and how it was handled by the Hennepin County Attorney's office.
Freeman has staunchly defended the conviction, but on Wednesday announced that he has offered a 15-year reduction in Burrell's sentence.
“I have reviewed this case thoroughly and I have reached two conclusions,” Freeman said in a media statement. “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.”
The issue of juvenile brain development was addressed in a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Justices wrote in Miller v Alabama that scientists now understand there are fundamental differences between a juvenile and an adult mind. In particular, the parts of the brain involved in behavior control do not fully develop until men reach their early 20s.
Freeman notes that Burrell was 16 years old at the time of the murder and was acting with older, more experienced gang members. He says those two factors are the types of "mitigating circumstances" the Supreme Court envisioned in its Miller decision.
However, a spokesperson for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said Burrell's defense attorney rejected Freeman's offer.
In a statement, Burrell's attorney, Dan Guerrero, maintained his client's innocence, and said reducing the sentence doesn't go far enough.
“While we appreciate Mr. Freeman’s offer or decision to reduce Myon’s sentence to 30 years, it is insufficient," Guerrero said. "Mr. Freeman’s office can go to district court and ask for a reduction. They do not need our support or agreement for this but bottom line, Myon has already spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Another 12 years only perpetuates that tragedy. In the end, we believe Myon is innocent of Tyesha Edward’s murder and that the facts support his innocence. We’ve supplied new evidence to the County Attorney’s Office. Nothing short of vacating Myon’s convictions and his immediate release from prison are sufficient to effectuate true justice.”
Guerrero told KARE 11 that Freeman's office is welcome to follow through on the offer on their own, but defense attorneys will continue to push for fully vacating Burrell's convictions.
According to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, sentence reductions typically happen when a defense attorney requests one, and prosecutors agree or decide not to object; the spokesperson said the county attorney's office does not intend to move forward alone.