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Conviction Review Unit begins evaluating Myon Burrell case as former prosecutor speaks out

Burrell was released from prison after his sentence was commuted but has not been exonerated. The prosecutor hopes that process won't be "rubber stamped."

MINNEAPOLIS — When Myon Burrell walked out of the prison in Stillwater as a free man in December 2020, it was not because Burrell was pardoned or exonerated.

Governor Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, influenced by a report penned by a group of six attorneys from around the country, decided instead to commute Burrell’s life sentence on the basis he was only 16 years old when he allegedly committed his crime.

Now the 37-year-old has a chance for his record to be wiped clean, as the Attorney General Office’s Conviction Review Unit is beginning to dig into his case.

"Because I’m not necessarily a free man. You know what I mean?" Burrell said in an interview with KARE 11 News. "I’m home. But I lost two decades of my life for a crime I didn’t commit, and I’m still being held accountable for someone else’s actions. To this day, I still have to walk around as a felon."

Burrell was convicted twice for the murder of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards in 2002. Tyesha was shot in the heart by a stray bullet while sitting at her dining room table doing homework. A gang member standing outside was the intended target, and multiple witnesses pegged Burrell as the one who pulled the trigger.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Burrell after ruling his statement to police inadmissible. But the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office convicted Burrell a second time in 2008 in a bench trial before Judge Charles Porter even without the use of Burrell’s videotaped interrogations.

The case gained new life in January 2020 when the Associated Press published an article raising questions about the police investigation and subsequent prosecutions. 

Former Hennepin County prosecutor Mike Furnstahl successfully prosecuted Burrell in 2008 and earned a conviction that's been upheld in appeals courts. As news coverage questioning Burrell's guilt spread in 2020, Furnstahl felt like no one would listen to him.

"It has been so incredibly frustrating to try to get the truth about this case before the public," Furnstahl said. "There was no question about his guilt. No question whatsoever."

Burrell's case became undeniably political, as activists seized on Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was the Hennepin County Attorney when Burrell was convicted the first time in 2003. Protesters crashed Klobuchar’s political rally in St. Louis Park, refusing to let her take the stage during her presidential campaign in March 2020. 

Klobuchar ended her campaign days later and called for an independent investigation into Burrell's case.

A panel of six attorneys put together by Laura Nirider, co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, began reviewing trial transcripts and interviewing some witnesses. But they did not have access to the actual prosecutor files.

In December 2020, the panel recommended Burrell's release from prison but did not finish its review on the question of guilt or innocence. 

Since Burrell's release, the Minnesota Attorney General's Office formed a Conviction Review Unit, which accepted Burrell's case.

But the Hennepin County Attorney's Office resisted turning over its voluminous files to the unit. Prosecutors cited the fact Burrell has been released, and the Conviction Review Unit's charter says it "shall prioritize claims of actual innocence brought by individuals who are currently in custody"

One week before current Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty was sworn in, the office reversed course and turned over all its files.

Burrell was a member of Moriarty's campaign staff in 2022. She paid him a total of $15,000, according to finance disclosure documents. Her office told the Conviction Review Unit that she has a conflict of interest and is not personally involved in the current review.

Attorney General Keith Ellison's original intention was to allow the panel that reviewed the case in 2020 to pick up where they left off and make recommendations to the Conviction Review Unit.

Furnstahl said he raised a number of issues with how that panel handled its 2020 review.

"There’s a myriad of mistakes, misstatements, half-truths and things that I can only conclude are lies in that report," Furnstahl said.

For example, their report focused on Burrell's alibi of being outside Cup Foods at 38th and Chicago when the shooting occurred and wrote that MPD failed to fully vet his story.

"This appears to constitute a failure to investigate that illustrates tunnel vision," the report said.

Furnstahl wrote a 150-page rebuttal to the report. In it, Furnstahl notes that Burrell did not even use the Cup Foods alibi in his first trial. When Burrell did use the Cup Foods alibi in the second trial, Furnstahl said he discredited that theory.

"During the course of this case, he has had five different alibis," Furnstahl said.

Because of critiques of the 2020 panel that reviewed the case, the Conviction Review Unit will choose a new, smaller, more local group of people to conduct the review of the prosecutor files. The process could take a year or more.

Burrell's attorney Erica Holzer said she knows some people don't want Burrell's case to be reviewed by the CRU, but she says it is important to close the loop on Burrell's case -- and others where major questions have been raised.

"I think it’s important to understand that to have more faith in our justice system, we ought to welcome entities like the conviction review unit to ensure that if there is somebody who is in prison and there is compelling evidence of their innocence that there is a mechanism by which an independent panel can review that evidence. And if that person is actually innocent, that they can go free," Holzer said.

Here is the 2020 review of Burrell's case that recommended his release from prison. 

Read Furnstahl's rebuttal report that insists Burrell is guilty.

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