Amid mounting pressure, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D.-Minn, called for an independent probe Thursday of a murder case she prosecuted which helped send a black teenager to jail for life.
In a letter to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, Klobuchar said, “As you are aware, significant concerns about the evidence and police investigation have been raised by a press investigation, by members of the Hennepin County community, and by Myon’s family.”
Myon Burrell,16 at the time, was locked up and sentenced to life in prison for the shooting of Tyesha Edwards, an 11-year-old girl who was killed by a stray bullet while doing homework at her dining room table in 2002. Burrell has since served 17 years for the murder, all the while insisting he was wrongfully convicted.
At the time, Klobuchar was serving as the Hennepin County attorney. Now, she’s calling for an “independent investigation and an independent review of the case.”
Criticism erupted after a damning investigation by The Associated Press and American Public media revealed inconsistent and unreliable accounts and even outright denial of Burrell’s presence at the crime scene by co-defendants.
Co-defendant Ike Tyson has for years insisted he was the gunman.
“I already shot an innocent girl,” said Tyson, who is serving a 45-year sentence. “Now an innocent guy -- at the time he was a kid -- is locked up for something he didn’t do. So, it’s like I’m carrying two burdens.”
Klobuchar, whose campaign was gaining steam at the time, canceled a rally in her home state two days before the Minnesota Democratic primary after dozens of protesters waved signs and chanted “Free Myon!” Less than 24 hours later, she ended her campaign and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden.
Burrell was convicted twice, once while Klobuchar was chief prosecutor. The second time was under Freeman’s supervision. But last month, Freeman released a statement expressing confidence in the work of police and prosecutors in Burrell’s case.
“We believe the right man was convicted in this heinous crime,” he said in a video posted to YouTube last month. “However, as we have said before, if new evidence is submitted to us, we will gladly review it.”
Klobuchar defended her work on the case during an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” but said that if new evidence has come to light, then Burrell should be allowed a retrial.
“My view as someone who has worked with the Innocence Project for years is that if there is new evidence, then it must come forward and it must be considered immediately by the court,” she said, adding that she did not know there was any new evidence until she saw the news story.
“I couldn’t have, I haven’t been in that office for 12 years,” she said.
Then, Klobuchar met with Burrell’s family on Tuesday. “As I told them, I believe that if any injustice was done in the quest for justice for Tyesha Edward, it must be addressed,” she said.
Throughout her political career, Klobuchar has used Burrell’s conviction as a show of her commitment to racial justice -- until the investigation was published.
In a show of her commitment to racial justice, Klobuchar returned a $1,000 campaign donation from Linda Fairstein, who prosecuted New York’s infamous Central Park Five, the four black teens and one Hispanic teen who were later exonerated in the rape of a white jogger in 1989.
But while campaigning to be the top prosecutor in Minnesota’s most populous county in 1998, Klobuchar advocated for harsher penalties for juvenile offenders.
On the fateful day in 2002, Burrell said he was playing video games with a group at his friend’s house. Hungry, the group made their way to Cup Foods, a few hundred yards from where Edwards was shot.
Police decided early on the killer was Burrell, according to The AP, though he had no previous run-ins with the law.
Edward’s murder topped the news that night when one inmate caught word they were looking for the killer. The gun was never recovered and DNA evidence at the scene was insufficient.
Desperate to get money or time cut off his own sentence, he quickly reached out to Timmy Oliver, a friend and fellow gang member. Oliver was the intended target of the stray bullet. Minutes later, the often-used informant gave the cops Burrell’s name, helping steer their investigation, the AP found.
In a video taken hours before Burrell’s arrest, chief homicide detective Richard Zimmerman was recorded speaking to a man picked up in regards to a different shooting. He said he'd pay “major dollars” for information about Tyesha’s murder -- even if it’s just street chatter.
“Hearsay is still worth something to me,” Zimmerman tells the man, offering $500 a name. “Sometimes ... you get hearsay here, hearsay there. Sometimes it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, things come together, you know what I mean?”
The man gave up three names, but Zimmerman paid for just one: Burrell’s.
When Burrell was picked up by police, he gave them the names of both friends he was with at Cup Foods at the time of the shooting. Police followed up with neither. Though the store was under surveillance, it appeared police never reviewed the tapes.
During the interrogation, Burrell never asked for an attorney, but he did ask for his mother, 13 times. “No, not now,” he was told. Burrell’s mother would later die in a car wreck on her way home from visiting him in prison. Klobuchar did not allow him to attend his mother’s funeral.
For years, many of the witnesses in the case have insisted they lied to get money or shortened sentences from police, or to protect friends.
“Everybody told a lie to get time cut,” said Terry Arrington, a member of a rival gang who served as a jailhouse informant. He was approached by officers and told he could knock his sentence from 19 years to three if he was willing to testify in the case.
“They basically brought me through what to say. Before I went before the grand jury, they brought me in a room and said … ‘When you get in, hit on this, hit on this.’ I was still young and I had fresh kids that I was trying to get home to, so I did what they asked.”
“Like, I don’t wish jail on nobody,” he said, now back in prison at Rush City correctional facility on other charges. “Even though we was enemies ... that’s still a man ... So it really bothers me right now.”
Burrell said he believes officers knew he was innocent all along.“They just didn’t feel like my life was worth living.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.