In 2003, Myron Burrell was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the death of an 11-year-old girl who was killed by a stray bullet. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Board of Pardons commuted his sentence.
According to CBS News, the decision was mutually agreed upon by Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. On November 22, 2002, 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards was shot and killed when a gang incident occurring outside her home resulted in a stray bullet hitting her. Burrell was only 16 years old at the time of the incident and Walz cited Supreme Court rulings outlining the difference between a child’s brain and an adult’s as one of the primary reasons behind his decision to commute Burrell’s sentence.
In a meeting with Edwards’s family, Walz said that he was not there “to relitigate the crime” that tragically took the life of their daughter, according to the Associated Press. Walz added that “we must act today to recognize the law in this area has changed. Justice is not served by incarcerating a child for his entire lifetime for a horrible mistake committed many years ago.”
Ellison shared similar remarks on Twitter, writing “Mr. Myon Burrell’s age at the time of his conviction is extremely persuasive to me in terms of a commutation. The Supreme Court has said it is unconstitutional to give a juvenile a life sentence.”
Burrell’s case was particularly high profile due in part to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) citing it as evidence she was tough on crime during her time as chief prosecutor in Hennepin County while campaigning to be president earlier this year. Those claims led to an investigation by the Associated Press and APM Reports that found serious flaws in the police investigation that led to Burrell’s convictions.
The yearlong investigation by The AP showed there was no hard evidence — no gun, DNA or fingerprints — tying Burrell to the shooting. Among other things, police did not collect a corner store’s surveillance video, which Burrell said could have cleared him. And video footage showed the lead homicide detective offering a man in police custody $500 for Burrell’s name, even if it was just hearsay.
Officers relied heavily on a single eyewitness, who offered conflicting accounts, along with jailhouse informants, who benefited generously for testifying. Some have recanted. One had his 16-year prison sentence cut to three. Another said he had agreed to work with police on 14 other cases.
Burrell’s co-defendants said the teenager was not at the scene that day.
One of them, Isaiah Tyson, has been saying for years that he was the shooter, not Burrell.
“I will always carry the burden of what happened to an innocent child,” Tyson said Tuesday during a call from prison, where he’s serving a 45-year sentence for Tyesha’s killing. “But by him being let go, it’s a huge relief for me, because I’ve been holding that this whole time. ... He was locked up for something he had no idea about”
Welp, that’s the American justice system in a nutshell. A Black boy who apparently had nothing to do with this tragedy spent almost two decades—his entire adult life—in prison due to hearsay and evidence that was flimsy at best.
An independent national legal panel reviewed Burrell’s case and released its findings last Tuesday, saying that “failure to investigate that illustrates tunnel vision” and that evidence that could’ve led to Burrell being exonerated off jump was dismissed or minimized.
Burrell’s release was swift, leaving Stillwater Prison on Tuesday night shortly after his sentence was commuted. Burrell was resentenced to 20 years and will spend the remainder of his sentence under supervised release. According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, this is the first time in over 20 years that a murder sentence has been commuted in Minnesota.
Shortly after arriving home to his friends and family, Burrell stood outside to look at the moon and stars, a sight he’d been waiting a long time to see. “It’s just a blessing,” he told AP.