Sentenced to life in prison as a teenager, Myron Burrell is finally free. Gov. Tim Walz proposed commuting Burrell’s sentence to 20 years, citing research concerning life imprisonment for teenagers and the differences between the brains and decision making capacity of teenagers versus adults.
The governor, the attorney general and the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court make up the Minnesota Board of Pardons. Ellison and Walz approved the commutation. Lorie Skjerven Gildea, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, recused herself due to her prior involvement in the case.
According to the Associated Press, Burrell’s commutation is the first one involving a murder case in at least 22 years.
Prior to the board’s decision, an independent panel of legal experts recommended Burrell’s release citing numerous issues with the case beginning with the initial police investigation into the killing of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. Burrell was 16 when he was convicted of killing Tyesha. She was killed by a stray bullet as she sat in her kitchen doing homework.
The expert panel noted glaring issues with the reliance on paid informant testimony and the prosecution ignoring a co-defendant swearing Burrell was not on the scene that night. A report by the Associated Press cited surveillance video from a corner store which Burrell has maintained would have cleared him.
Concerns were also raised about the prosecution by both Sen. Amy Klobuchar who previously served as the Hennepin County Attorney and the current Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. The panel of legal experts did not make a finding as to Burrell’s guilt or innocence, but insisted on his immediate release.
Burrell has maintained his innocence since he was first arrested. Burrell’s case first gained national attention earlier this year during the presidential primary as activists called for her to withdraw from the race.
Klobuchar previously used Burrell’s case as an example of her tough stance on crime. But she reluctantly conceded the need for external review into the case. Her concession came after the national outcry and an investigation by the AP which also raised questions about Klobuchar’s overzealous prosecution.
The Edwards family expressed their displeasure with the decision. Tyesha’s brother, Jimmie Edwards III recounted for AP all the life experiences she missed out on. “Her life was taken away at 11,” he said. “Who’s the victim?”
Balancing empathy with the family’s loss and recognizing the need for reevaluation of the criminal punishment of juveniles, Walz spoke to the family during Tuesday’s meeting.
“There is nothing I can do to ease your pain, and it will not be made better,” said Walz. “But 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.”