An independent panel of national legal experts today released its report on the conviction and sentencing of Myon Burrell, who is currently serving a life sentence in Minnesota for the 2002 death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. The panel was chaired by Professor Mark Osler and organized by Laura Nirider of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions in Illinois and Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck of New York.
“It was an honor to chair this remarkable panel,” Osler said. “The work proved to be compelling, engrossing and important. This effort was unique in two ways. First, we served as an ad hoc group independent from any party to the case. Second, this effort merged traditional wrongful conviction analysis and a close examination of sentencing – a project that may be an example to other efforts in the future.”
The panel for the Burrell case was formed in July 2020 following the publication of an investigative report by the Associated Press that pointed to a possible wrongful conviction. It was assembled by Scheck and Nirider with the encouragement and support of activists in the community; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who served as the county attorney for Hennepin County at the time of the first trial; and several Minnesota organizations, including the Minneapolis NAACP, the Innocence Project of Minnesota and the ACLU of Minnesota.
Panel members were asked to examine the evidence in Burrell’s case, assess the appropriateness of his conviction and life sentence and produce a written report of their findings by the end of the year.
Scheck and Nirider convened the independent panel because, until just a few months ago, Minnesota did not have a conviction integrity unit or sentencing review board to look into the cases of people believed to be innocent. In October, however, the Innocence Project of Minnesota and the Attorney General’s Office received a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to establish the state’s first Conviction Review Unit (CRU).
In the report released today, the panel both concluded that Burrell’s continued incarceration serves no principled purpose and, “strongly recommend that the newly-created Conviction Review Unit in the Minnesota Attorney General’s office continue this re-investigation.” The report states:
The panel believes that further on-the-ground investigation, including witness interviews, review of police and prosecution files and tape recordings may yield additional evidence of actual innocence or due process issues. Indeed, the panel’s investigation has been constrained by lack of access to the complete police and prosecution files and lack of access to full information about the informants, including cooperation deals and information about their history of providing testimony in exchange for leniency in other cases. For this reason, we strongly recommend that the newly-created Conviction Review Unit in the Minnesota Attorney General’s office continue this re-investigation, with emphasis on the particular issues that we identify in this report.
- Keith Findley, former president of the national Innocence Network, co-founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Maria Hawilo, distinguished professor of law at Loyola University Chicago
- Mark Osler, professor of law at the University of St. Thomas and former assistant U.S. attorney (chair)
- Jim Petro, former attorney general of the state of Ohio
- David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center and professor of law at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law
- Mike Ware, former chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit at the Dallas District Attorney’s Office (2007-11), executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas
All of the panelists worked on the review pro bono. They were assisted by the law firm of Greene Espel PLLP in Minneapolis, which provided pro bono legal support.