Myon Burrell, 34, was released from a state prison on Tuesday after the Minnesota Board of Pardons commuted his life sentence in a murder case that angered advocates of criminal justice reform and hampered Senator Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign.
An investigation by The Associated Press and American Public Media in February revealed glaring flaws in the prosecution by an office led by Ms. Klobuchar, then the Hennepin County attorney. Mr. Burrell was 16 when he was arrested in 2002, after an 11-year-old girl was struck in the heart by a stray bullet while doing homework.
The board reduced Mr. Burrell’s sentence to 20 years with the remaining two years to be served on supervised release, according to The Associated Press. He has always maintained his innocence.
One of Mr. Burrell’s lawyers, Daniel Guerrero, said on Tuesday that he planned to pursue avenues toward complete exoneration. He praised Mr. Burrell’s release but said his case pointed to larger flaws in the criminal justice system.
“Myon is certainly not the only innocent person that we have in our prison system here in this country,” Mr. Guerrero said. “Our jury system is good, but it’s certainly not infallible.”
According to the investigation by The Associated Press, there was no hard evidence, like DNA or fingerprints, that connected Mr. Burrell directly to the shooting, to which another man later confessed. Video evidence showed that the case’s lead homicide detective had offered a man $500 to provide Mr. Burrell’s name.
The investigation also said the police had failed to collect surveillance video from a convenience store that Mr. Burrell said could have proved his innocence. The store, Cup Foods, was the same one outside of which George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers in May.
Mr. Burrell requested privacy after his release on Tuesday, said another of his lawyers. He emerged from prison to the sound of drums, briefly raising his fist to a group of supporters who cheered and crowded around him.
“I can’t for a minute imagine what that must have felt like for him,” said the lawyer, Perry Moriearty, who was with Mr. Burrell when he left the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater in Bayport, Minn. “He looks forward to going home to his family and just living — it’s been an awfully long time.”
While before the pardons board, according to The Associated Press, Mr. Burrell spoke about his time in prison: “I started going in and extracting medicine out of the poison. The trials and tribulations I was going through, I tried to get something out of it.”
Mr. Burrell had twice been convicted of killing Tyesha Edwards, who was in sixth grade when she was fatally shot while doing homework and watching TV at her family’s South Minneapolis home. Gov. Tim Walz, who recommended Mr. Burrell’s commutation, told her family during Tuesday’s hearing that “there is nothing I can do to ease your pain, and it will not be made better,” according to The Associated Press.
“But we must act today to recognize the law in this area has changed,” he told the family. “Justice is not served by incarcerating a child for his entire lifetime for a horrible mistake committed many years ago.”
Ms. Edwards’s father and brother told The Associated Press that they opposed the release of Mr. Burrell. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined to comment, and Ms. Klobuchar did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Klobuchar, who embraced a tough-on-crime message while trying to appeal to moderate voters in the Democratic presidential primary, was criticized by civil rights advocates and Black community leaders after The Associated Press’s investigation.
She was the Hennepin County attorney for eight years, including during the office’s first conviction of Mr. Burrell, in 2003. That conviction was later overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which said an inadmissible statement by Mr. Burrell had been used at trial.