Independent panel of national legal experts issues recommendations in Myon Burrell case
A panel of national legal experts, organized by two national legal organizations, the Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, has issued recommendations after reviewing the conviction and sentence of Myon Burrell of Minneapolis.
After reviewing Burrell’s conviction and sentence in connection with the 2002 shooting death of 11‐year‐old Tyesha Edwards, a panel of national legal experts has concluded that (1) no purpose is served by Burrell’s continued incarceration and, separately, that (2) serious questions exist about Burrell’s guilt that should be investigated further by the new Conviction Review Unit (CRU) in the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.
Edwards was killed by a stray bullet that struck her while she was sitting at her dining room table in south Minneapolis. Two adult men were convicted of her murder – Hans Williams and Isaiah Tyson – as was Burrell, who was 16 years old at the time of Edwards’ death. Burrell was sentenced to life in prison, a significantly longer sentence than his two codefendants. To date, he has served 18 years in prison.
In the spring of 2020, community leaders and Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for an independent investigation into Burrell’s conviction and sentence. Klobuchar served as the County Attorney for Hennepin County at the time of Burrell’s first trial.
In July 2020, Laura Nirider, co‐director of the CWC at Northwestern Law, and Barry Scheck, co‐founder of the Innocence Project and professor of law at Cardozo School of Law, convened an independent panel of national legal experts to review Burrell’s conviction and sentence. That panel included the following individuals:
- Keith Findley, former president of the national Innocence Network, co‐founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin‐Madison
- Maria Hawilo, Distinguished Professor of Law at Loyola University Chicago
- Mark Osler, Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas and former Assistant United States Attorney (Chair)
- Jim Petro, former Attorney General of the State of Ohio
- David Singleton, Executive Director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center and Professor of Law at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law
- Mike Ware, former Chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit at the Dallas District Attorney’s Office (2007‐11), Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Texas
Since July 2020, the panel has reviewed the record in Burrell’s case and spoken to key witnesses, as well as prosecutors and defense counsel. Following its review, the panel has issued a written report, which can be read at www.centeronwrongfulconvictions.org.
In summary, the panel has concluded that no purpose is served by Burrell’s continued incarceration for the following reasons:
- Burrell was 16 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison. Since Edwards’ death, the national legal and scientific community has developed new understandings about the inappropriateness of life sentences for children and adolescents. Because youth are uniquely capable of rehabilitation, maturation, and redemption, many courts and state authorities around the country are reducing the sentences of those who had previously been sentenced to life as juveniles.
- Burrell’s prison records demonstrate a history of nonviolence and personal growth. During the past 18 years of incarceration, Burrell has received his G.E.D. and participated in a number of restorative justice mediation programs. After converting to Islam, he now serves as the Imam of the Stillwater prison inmate population. He also has an extensive family support system outside of prison that is capable of supporting his re‐entry into society. In short, his prison records describe a productive and nonviolent person who does not need continued incarceration.
The panel has also developed serious concerns regarding the reliability of the primary pieces of evidence used to convict Burrell, including an eyewitness identification and multiple pieces of jailhouse informant testimony. Since Edwards’ death, the legal and scientific communities have developed new understandings regarding the potential fallibility of both of these types of evidence, particularly under circumstances such as those present in this case. The panel urges the new statewide Conviction Review Unit, which will operate out of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office, to continue this panel’s work reviewing the integrity of Burrell’s conviction.
The panelists donated their time pro bono and have been assisted in their efforts by the Greene Espel law firm in Minneapolis, which has also provided support pro bono.