The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has offered to reduce the prison term for Myon Burrell, whose conviction in the 2002 fatal shooting of a Minneapolis girl became a flash point in Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign.
In a news release Wednesday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman proposed dropping 15 years from Burrell’s two prison terms in the fatal shooting of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards even as he stated his continued belief in Burrell’s guilt.
Freeman said Burrell’s term is “too long” and that his office reached its conclusion based on a Supreme Court decision.
“I have reviewed this case thoroughly and I have reached two conclusions,” Freeman said in the news release. “First, there is no question that Myon Burrell pulled the trigger that fired the fatal bullet. Second, we have learned much about the brain development of juveniles, especially juvenile males.”
Burrell was given two sentences in 2008: life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years for killing Edwards, an innocent bystander, and 15 years to serve after that for attempting to kill the intended target.
Freeman’s offer would cut the second prison term. It would not affect the life sentence, meaning Burrell, who has already served 18 years in prison, would have to serve 12 more years before he is eligible for parole.
“Frankly, I don’t think it’s an offer,” said Burrell’s attorney, Daniel Guerrero.
Freeman sent the offer to Guerrero via letter on Oct. 22. Guerrero said he wrote back in early November advocating for Burrell’s immediate release from prison but never heard from Freeman’s office.
Guerrero expressed confusion at the purpose and timing of Freeman’s news release, noting that the county attorney can reduce a prison term without agreement from the defense.
“I don’t need to agree to that,” Guerrero said. “They could do that and it wouldn’t be any detriment to them in the long run because they’re not conceding that Mr. Burrell is innocent.”
Freeman’s office said Guerrero was correct, but that most sentence reductions begin with the defense making a proposal to a judge and prosecutors then reacting.
“We think the proper procedure is to offer the reduction to the defense first and see how they feel about it,” the county attorney’s office said in a statement, adding that prosecutors and judges cannot alter a life sentence.
Freeman also said the community influenced Wednesday’s announcement.
“We wanted to give Mr. Guerrero an appropriate amount of time, but there were people in the community who knew about our offer and we thought it was appropriate that the public should know what we proposed in this case,” Freeman’s office said.
Burrell, 34, was 16 when he was first convicted of killing Edwards. He has maintained his innocence.
Burrell was a minor “acting in concert with older, more experienced gang members,” factors the U.S. Supreme Court considered in a 2012 decision that cited the difference between juvenile and adult brains and its effect on behavior, Freeman noted.
The Associated Press published an investigation earlier this year questioning how the case was investigated by police and prosecuted by then-Hennepin County Attorney Klobuchar. Klobuchar was running for president at the time and had mentioned the case at a presidential debate.
A gunshot had been fired outside to scare a rival, but instead penetrated a nearby home and struck Edwards as she was doing homework at her dining room table.
The AP article raised questions about the credibility of jailhouse informants, the lack of physical evidence and apparent missteps by investigators.
Klobuchar’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Burrell was convicted in 2003. He was granted a new trial, and was convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in a bench trial under Freeman’s tenure.
Guerrero said he presented evidence to Freeman’s office about three women who reported being with Burrell at a different location at the time of the shooting and two men who said they — not Burrell — were involved, among other evidence.
He said Burrell’s convictions should be vacated and that he should be released from prison.
“We certainly could not agree to an arrangement where we agree that he’s guilty and [say] ‘Thank you for reducing his sentence,’ ” Guerrero said.