One of the first cases that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison's new conviction review unit will consider is the high-profile murder conviction of Myon Burrell.

The newly launched initiative — one of just seven in the country to operate statewide — is looking into Burrell's conviction for the 2002 fatal shooting of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, who was struck by a stray bullet. Burrell was 16 at the time and has maintained his innocence. Two other co-defendants were also charged and one of them later said he fired the weapon that struck Edwards.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons agreed to commute Burrell's sentence late last year, freeing him after 18 years in prison. But the board did not determine whether to pardon Burrell.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who was Hennepin County attorney when Burrell was first convicted — called for his case to be reopened following an Associated Press investigation in 2020, and a panel of national experts looked at his case. It later concluded that Burrell should be released from his life prison term and called on Ellison's new conviction review unit to "fully reinvestigate."

Burrell's case has been singled out by Ellison's office as demonstrating the need for its conviction review unit. Yet it does not meet the criteria for the types of applications the new group has vowed to prioritize.

That's because Burrell is no longer incarcerated. Ellison's initiative is focusing on applications from people who are still incarcerated and serving time for felony convictions, since it has just one full-time employee leading it and $300,000 in federal funding for the next two years.

A spokesman for Ellison's office explained that same panel of experts that produced last year's 59-page report on Burrell's case will look into Burrell's application to the unit and make recommendations to Ellison, who has final say in all review applications.

Recently retired Hennepin County referee Mike Furn­stahl, who successfully prosecuted Burrell the second time, plans to fight vacating the conviction. After he retired in June, Furnstahl wrote a 120-page memo sharply criticizing the decision to commute Burrell's sentence. He wrote that he believes the "fix" is already in to vacate Burrell's conviction.

"I, and many others, believe this to be a travesty of justice, fueled in large part by the cowardly acts of incompetent politicians," he wrote of the commutation.

Burrell's case has also fueled debate over jailhouse witness testimony.

The panel that recommended Burrell's release raised major concerns about jailhouse witness testimony in his case, pointing out that nearly all of those who testified against Burrell were members of an opposing gang and noted that informants also received a "series of extraordinarily generous plea deals."

Staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.

Stephen Montemayor • 651-925-5048