On Tuesday, Myon Burrell, a 34-year-old Black man who may have been wrongfully convicted of murder, was released from prison after maintaining his innocence for 18 years. Burrell’s case gained traction earlier this year after an Associated Press report revealed new evidence and drew attention to a flawed police investigation — and after then-presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar received criticism for her role in the conviction.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and the rest of the Minnesota Board of Pardons voted to commute Burrell’s life sentence to 20 years after an independent panel of legal experts released a study supporting the Associated Press’ investigation. He will serve his last two years on supervised release.
Burrell was greeted by a swarm of cheering supporters, including his 19-year-old son, as he left prison. According to the Star Tribune, he briefly raised his fist and shook hands as corrections officers escorted him outside. “I can’t express my gratitude for all my supporters,” he said before getting into a waiting car. “We’re fighting for justice. There’s too much injustice going on.”
Burrell was tried and sentenced for the fatal shooting of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, who was killed in her home by a stray bullet in 2002. However, there was no hard evidence or DNA tying Burrell to the murder, and Burrell’s alibi was never officially investigated. A video taken shortly before his arrest also showed the chief homicide detective offering a man in police custody hundreds of dollars to name Burrell as a suspect.
In a statement, Klobuchar called Burrell’s release “the right and just decision.” However, she also came under fire earlier this year for serving as the district attorney in Burrell’s case, and has recently touted her role in the arrest more than once. “Sweet, sweet child just home doing her homework so that they could go to the mall later on or something, and gang members shot through her house and killed her at her kitchen table while she was doing her homework,” Klobuchar said in a 2019 interview with The Washington Post. “We went after those guys. They went to jail.”
This summer, Klobuchar was reportedly under consideration to become Joe Biden’s running mate. She stepped aside in June, arguing that Biden should put a woman of color on the ticket, but many believe scrutiny over her prosecutorial record played a role in her choice to step aside. One of her final presidential rallies was canceled after protestors stormed the stage to call for Burrell’s release. And, along with her role in Burrell’s sentence, many also brought up the fact that she was working as a prosecutor when six officers, including Derek Chauvin — the officer who killed George Floyd — shot a man in 2006.
Although Klobuchar confirmed that she had already left the role by the time Chauvin’s case was heard, many still used this as evidence that her “tough on crime” reputation harmed Black people in Minnesota. For example, the number of Black youth in the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center grew significantly during her time as a prosecutor. Following the killing of Floyd, many people called for Klobuchar to decline the vice-presidential position if offered, and insisted that Biden must choose another candidate with a less harmful record.
Burrell’s release is cause for celebration, but as one of his lawyers, Daniel Guerrero, noted, it’s also just the beginning. According to a 2017 study from the National Registry of Exonerations, Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be falsely convicted of murder. “Myon is certainly not the only innocent person that we have in our prison system here in this country,” Guerrero said, according to The New York Times. “Our jury system is good, but it’s certainly not infallible.”