Marvin Haynes, a 36-year-old north Minneapolis man imprisoned since he was a teenager, should never have been convicted of murder, a Hennepin County judge said on Monday. Haynes' conviction has been vacated.
Judge William Koch signed an agreement between Haynes and the Hennepin County Attorney's Office — which charged Haynes in the 2004 murder of 55-year-old flower shop clerk Randy Sherer — saying a flawed investigation violated Haynes' rights.
Faulty identification evidence, including the use of an out-of-date mug shot and lineup errors, were employed to wrongfully convict the then-17-year-old, according to the stipulation between the defense and prosecuting attorney's office. Haynes was sentenced to life in prison.
Haynes was released from the Stillwater prison on Monday morning. His lawyers and sisters, including his primary advocate Marvina Haynes, were there waiting for him.
"I'm so excited," Haynes said at a news conference shortly after his release. "My family, it's been years since I've seen a lot of them," he said.
Haynes' lawyer, Andrew Markquart of the Great North Innocence Project, said Monday's events felt "incredible."
"We believe fully in his innocence and it's been a long time coming for him and his family," Markquart said. "We're just thrilled and happy to be able to play a part in his story."
In 2004, a robber shot and killed Sherer in his family's flower shop on N. 33rd and Lyndale avenues in north Minneapolis. Police found no physical evidence to identify the killer. Sherer's sister Cynthia McDermid was the only eyewitness. She described her brother's killer as a thin Black male who was nearly 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, with "close-cropped" hair."
Haynes, then 16, was arrested for missing court on a curfew violation. He stood 5 feet 7, weighed 130 pounds and sported a long Afro. But instead of showing McDermid an up-to-date booking photo of Haynes, investigators used a two-year-old mug shot of him with short, close-cropped hair matching the witness' description. She eventually picked Haynes.
Haynes appeared in court last month for a two-day evidentiary hearing in the case. His lawyers argued that the mug shot and other problems with the investigation and trial were unnecessarily suggestive, departing from best practices and warranted overturning the conviction. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office agreed.
In a Monday morning message to staff, County Attorney Mary Moriarty called Haynes' exoneration "an important day for justice."
"Sometimes doing the right thing means we must seek to undo the harms of the past, not defend them," Moriarty said. "And that is what we have tried to do in this case. It is not easy to admit and correct our wrongs. But it is necessary."
During a news conference at the Hennepin County Government Center on Monday afternoon, Moriarty emphasized that one of the lead police investigators on the Haynes case, Michael Keefe, testified in support of Haynes' exoneration — and that eyewitness McDermid did nothing wrong, having tried in good faith to identify her brother's killer. She placed the blame for Haynes' wrongful conviction squarely with former prosecutors of the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, including retired Assistant County Attorney Mike Furnstahl.
Furnstahl also prosecuted Myon Burrell, a contemporary of Haynes whose life sentence for murder was commuted in 2020.
Following the news of Haynes' release, the former prosecutor said he was "appalled" by Moriarty's decision and believed Haynes' conviction had been "solid."
The order signed by Koch dismissed all charges in the "interests of justice." In lieu of any physical evidence linking Haynes to the crime, and "absent introduction of the unconstitutional eyewitness identification evidence, it is doubtful there would have been sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction," according to the order.
Even before the November hearing, there were signs that the Hennepin County Attorney's Office was amenable to Haynes' efforts to clear his name. Crucially, the office agreed to waive certain procedural bars, such as the two-year statute of limitations on bringing a petition for post-conviction relief.
A bill introduced in the Legislature last session proposes changing the law so that post-conviction petitions based on new evidence discovered more than two years after the date of conviction would not be automatically thrown out.
Thronged with extended family and holding young nieces and nephews born while he was incarcerated, Haynes appeared elated following his release — and at times overwhelmed.
"I haven't seen my mom in three or four years because she has health problems, so that's been difficult to deal with," he said. "When I leave here, that's the first place I'm going."
Haynes previously told the Star Tribune that once he got out of prison he would rely on immediate family until he could find a job and make enough money to live independently. In prison he earned 25 cents an hour, he said.
Under Minnesota law, Haynes is eligible for restitution. He must petition for compensation in Hennepin County District Court.
Star Tribune staff writers Kim Hyatt and Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.