The ACLU and NAACP are applauding the decision of the Minnesota Board of Pardons who voted unanimously Tuesday to commute Myon Burrell’s sentence from life to 20 years.
He’ll serve the rest of his sentence on supervised release.
Police focused on Burrell in their investigation of the 2002 death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, who was killed by a stray bullet. But a national panel of experts recently found that there was a “failure to investigate that illustrates tunnel vision” and that evidence that could have exonerated Burrell was minimized or ignored to the point of “significant questions regarding whether Burrell was involved.” The report strongly recommended that Attorney General Keith Ellison’s conviction integrity unit review the case.
The ACLU of Minnesota released the following statement.
The ACLU of Minnesota applauds the Minnesota Board of Pardons’ decision to commute Myon Burrell’s sentence and to immediately release him from prison, and we urge the board to grant him a full pardon.
The commutation follows years of advocacy by community groups including the ACLU-MN for an investigation of Burrell’s case and the vacating of his conviction, given the serious and troubling flaws involved in the policing and prosecution of his case. We’ve also urged the opening of a conviction review unit to remedy false convictions, which Attorney General Ellison has underway, and we urge that unit to make investigating Burrell’s case a priority.
“The decision today to commute Myon Burrell’s sentence begins to correct a gross miscarriage of justice,” said ACLU-MN Executive Director John Gordon. “The faulty police investigation and prosecution relied heavily on paid informants, overlooked the lack of physical evidence tying him to the scene, and ignored and even suppressed evidence that favored Burrell.”
“Burrell’s case provides a clear and disappointing example of what happens when officials settle on someone as a suspect, and ignore all alibis and conflicting evidence,” Gordon said. “This happens all too often to Black and Brown people at every stage of our criminal justice system, leading to staggering disparities that do not serve justice, and tonight’s decision is a powerful reminder of the critical role that clemency and redemption must play in correcting those systemic injustices.”
ACLU-MN Smart Justice Organizer Elizer Darris, who led the ACLU-MN’s long-term fight alongside community groups to seek Burrell’s release, spoke on his behalf Tuesday. Darris told the pardons board he has known Burrell since Burrell entered prison as a teen. Darris told the board how impressed he was with Burrell’s leadership and election as the prison’s imam.
“I know he is a man of character; I know he is a man of his word,” Darris said. He said the community needs people like Burrell who are so respected by young people, and that he expects Burrell to “contribute mightily” to the community, as he did inside the prison.
The ACLU of MN believes our criminal legal system should not charge, sentence or incarcerate juveniles like adults.
The NAACP also released the following statement after Burrell’s release:
“We applaud the tireless efforts of former President of the Minneapolis NAACP Leslie Redmond for raising national awareness of the case and support for its reopening. Since the AP raised several flaws with the case earlier this year, the NAACP Minneapolis branch has sought recourse for Myon Burell. We are also thankful to Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar who called to reopen the case, which had special resonance since she first prosecuted the case.
The injustice inflicted upon Myon Burrell is a reflection of how much work needs to be done to repair our criminal justice system. Our efforts were successful in this case due to the voices of many. We will continue to hold the justice system accountable for its transgressions in criminalizing Black youth and rushing to put them behind bars for a long time.”