The father of a man who says he was wrongly convicted as a teenager of killing a child in 2003 under then-Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar joined more than a dozen activists in Minneapolis on Wednesday calling on her to end her campaign for president.
Michael Toussaint cited a recent Associated Press investigation that raised questions about the case against his son, Myon Burrell, who is serving a life sentence for the 2002 killing of Tyesha Edwards, an 11-year-old girl who was struck by a stray bullet in south Minneapolis. Burrell was 16 at the time.
The call by Toussaint and his supporters came just days ahead of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, where Klobuchar, now a U.S. senator, has pinned her hopes on gaining traction in the Democratic presidential primaries.
“The reason we say Amy [is] because Amy used my son’s case” in her presidential campaign, Toussaint said. He said she wanted a political advantage, “So she basically put herself in play on this. It’s not that we’re targeting one person.”
Klobuchar’s campaign said in a statement that she has long been an advocate for criminal justice reforms, including during her time as Hennepin County attorney. “If there is any new evidence in this case, it should be immediately reviewed by the court,” the campaign said.
Toussaint was joined by activists from the Racial Justice Network, Minneapolis NAACP, Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar and Communities United Against Police Brutality. The group rallied in the lobby of the Hennepin County Courthouse accusing Minneapolis police and Klobuchar’s office of sloppy work and misconduct that framed Burrell.
The Associated Press article quoted another man, Ike Tyson, who confessed to the killing. Tyson said he was shooting at a rival gang member when a stray bullet penetrated a nearby home and struck Edwards.
The yearlong AP investigation also raised questions about police use of jailhouse informants to tie Burrell to the shooting, and the lack of follow-up with two people who said they were with Burrell elsewhere at the time. The report also noted that prosecutors had no gun, fingerprint or DNA evidence.
The activists also called out Klobuchar’s successor, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, whose office tried Burrell again in 2008 after the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial. Burrell, now 33, was eventually convicted in a bench trial without a jury and sentenced to life in prison.
Then-Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter Jr. found Burrell guilty. Porter, who tried numerous high-profile cases in his career, declined to comment on his Burrell decision or the renewed interest in the case.
At the second trial in Porter’s courtroom, two other men convicted in Edwards’ shooting testified that Burrell was not with them when Edwards was killed.
Daniel Adkins, a defense attorney who worked on the most recent unsuccessful appeal for Burrell, said the trial should have been heard by a jury and that Burrell never got a “fair crack” with a good defense.
He didn’t represent Burrell at either trial, but said “corners were cut” by prosecutors who were not held to the same standards as they might have been in a lower-profile case.
Activists demanded that Klobuchar, Freeman and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo work to free Burrell.
“He has lost his innocence, he has lost his childhood, he has lost his young adulthood as a result of this travesty of justice, and as such, we cannot stand by while Amy Klobuchar continues her run for president and continues to deflect her responsibility in her involvement in this case,” said activist and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong.
A spokesman for Arradondo, who became chief in 2017, referred questions to Freeman’s office, which issued a statement raising questions about the Associated Press article.
“If there was something presented to us — new evidence — our office will carefully review that evidence and information,” said the statement. “As it stands, no new evidence has been presented to our office. This was tried twice, and there’s nothing new we can say beyond that.”
R.T. Rybak, who was Minneapolis mayor when the shooting occurred, said he hopes prosecutors and law enforcement “will take very seriously the idea that potentially someone could be wrongly imprisoned.”
Rybak, who wasn’t involved in the initial investigation or the trials, said “anyone who reads that article should be committed to trying to get to the truth as quickly as possible.”
While the AP article sparked new interest in the Tyesha Edwards case, Toussaint remained cautious. His son has had multiple attorneys through the years hoping to challenge his conviction, but nothing has come from their efforts, he said.
“It’s hard to feel better” about the odds now, Toussaint said. “I’ve seen it before.”