Sixteen-year-old Myon Burrell was sent to prison for life after a stray bullet killed an 11-year-old girl in Minneapolis in 2002. Amy Klobuchar, who was Minneapolis’ top prosecutor, brought first-degree murder charges as part of a national crackdown on gang violence – a crackdown that engulfed young men of color.
Burrell maintained his innocence for 18 years in prison. Associated Press reporter Robin McDowell spent a year looking into his case and found that multiple people had lied about Burrell’s involvement in the shooting and that police didn’t talk to his alibi witnesses. In December 2020, the state commuted Burrell’s sentence, allowing him to walk free.
This end to a prison sentence is rare: Burrell’s case was the first time in at least 28 years that Minnesota commuted a sentence for a violent crime case. But the factors that put Burrell in prison are not rare at all. According to The Sentencing Project, over 10,000 people are serving life sentences in the U.S. for crimes committed when they were juveniles. Half of them are Black. Burrell’s long shot reveals just how difficult it is to right a wrong in our criminal justice system. How many others like Burrell are there?
This episode was originally aired on April 17, 2021.
Reported by: Robin McDowell and Margie Mason | Produced by: Robin McDowell and Sasha Aslanian | Edited by: Catherine Winter | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Production assistance: Brett Simpson |Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: John Minchillo/AP | Special thanks: MPR News and KARE 11 | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Al Letson
Read: Amy Klobuchar helped jail teen for life, but case was flawed (AP)
Read: Youth sentenced to life imprisonment (Sentencing Project)