An 11-year-old girl who was doing her homework was hit and killed by a stray bullet in 2002. Police focused on Myon Burrell, who was 16. He was sentenced to life in prison. But an investigation into Burrell’s case by the Associated Press and American Public Media found new evidence that has cast deep doubt on his conviction. The ACLU of Minnesota is releasing the following statement in response to that investigation:
The ACLU of Minnesota is deeply troubled by the serious flaws, lack of evidence and glaring inconsistencies involved in the policing and prosecution of Myon Burrell.
We call on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to investigate the case and vacate Burrell’s conviction, and to open a Conviction Integrity Unit that works to prevent, identify and remedy false convictions.
“Myon Burrell has spent his entire adult life behind bars for a crime it appears he likely did not commit, and that’s a gross miscarriage of justice,” said ACLU-MN Executive Director John Gordon. “Not only was there no physical evidence tying him to the scene, the AP investigation shows officials made no real attempt to investigate Burrell’s alibi, or to listen to co-defendants who said Burrell wasn’t even there. One of those co-defendants has repeatedly claimed he himself committed the shooting. Instead, officials sought out jail informants, who got reduced time out of the deal, and informants they paid.
“Burrell’s case provides a clear and disappointing example of what happens when officials settle on someone as a suspect, and – at best – ignore all conflicting evidence and clear alibis,” 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 true justice.”
Police interviewed Burrell without his mother present, even though she was in the room next door, and he asked for her 13 times.
The ACLU opposes charging juveniles as adults, and Burrell was charged as an adult, although he was only 16 at the time. We also oppose life sentences for juveniles, the sentence Burrell was given. The U.S. Supreme Court has since ruled juveniles should not face mandatory life without parole.
Ending excessive sentences and extreme punishments is of paramount importance. Young people should not be sentenced to die in prison.