Klobuchar faces uproar over her role in Black teenager’s murder conviction

Senator Amy Klobuchar at a campaign event last week in Des Moines. A call from social justice activists for her to suspend her campaign came just days before the Iowa caucuses. Credit...Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Amy Klobuchar has often spoken about her prosecution of the teenager in an 11-year-old girl’s murder. An Associated Press report pointed to flaws in the case.

Civil rights activists and black community leaders in Minneapolis have called on Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to suspend her presidential campaign after a report raised questions about whether a black teenager was wrongly convicted of murder during her tenure as the Hennepin County attorney.

Ms. Klobuchar’s handling of the case involving the teenager, Myon Burrell, has come under renewed scrutiny after The Associated Press published an investigation this week detailing what it said were numerous flaws.

The senator has repeatedly highlighted Mr. Burrell’s conviction in the 2002 case, in which an 11-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet, as evidence of her history of being tough on crime and seeking justice for African-American communities shaken by gun violence. But the A.P. article quoted one of Mr. Burrell’s co-defendants as saying that he was in fact the gunman responsible for the murder of the girl, Tyesha Edwards. Mr. Burrell, The A.P. reported, has insisted that he is innocent and has rejected all plea deals.

Myon Burrell, convicted in the murder of Tyesha Edwards, an 11-year-old girl pierced in the heart by a stray bullet in 2002 while doing homework at her family’s dining room table, stands for a photograph at the Stillwater Correctional Facility, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Stillwater, Minn. A growing number of legal experts, community leaders and civil rights activists are worried that the black teenager may have been wrongly convicted in the name of political expediency. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

In a statement on Tuesday, representatives from the Minneapolis N.A.A.C.P., the Racial Justice Network, Black Lives Matter Twin Cities and other organizations jointly demanded that Ms. Klobuchar “immediately suspend her campaign for president, given her role in sending an innocent black teenager to prison for life.”

At a news conference the next day, Leslie Redmond, the president of the Minneapolis chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., said: “What I need people to understand is that this is not about partisanship and this is not about politics. This is about justice. This is about what’s right and what’s wrong.”

“Young people, young adults, were given life sentences to rot away in prison,” she added. “This benefits no one. However, it does benefit politicians that have used the criminal justice system to enhance their political careers, and enough is enough.”

“Amy Klobuchar,” Ms. Redmond said, “you have questions that need to be answered.”

The revelations, and the call for Ms. Klobuchar to suspend her campaign, came just days before the caucuses in Iowa — a state where she has invested considerable resources and needs to get strong results.

Throughout the Democratic primary, candidates like former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City have faced scrutiny of their records on criminal justice and policies they supported that disproportionately harmed African-American and Hispanic communities. And before she dropped out of the race, Senator Kamala Harris of California also faced questions about her time as a prosecutor.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for Ms. Klobuchar’s campaign said: “Senator Klobuchar has always believed in pursuing justice without fear or favor. That’s why she has said that any new evidence in this case should immediately be reviewed by the court.”

In a statement, the Hennepin County attorney’s office said it had “been fully cooperative with The Associated Press and Myon Burrell’s defense attorneys,” adding, “Neither The Associated Press or Myon Burrell’s lawyers have shared any new evidence with us. If any new information is presented, it will carefully be reviewed by our office.”

The Minneapolis Police Department referred questions to the Hennepin County attorney’s office without comment.

In a telephone interview Friday night Daniel Guerrero, a lawyer for Mr. Burrell who has represented him since 2017, said that while he believed the authorities could have more rigorously followed up on leads and alibis, he did not think, based on his review, that Ms. Klobuchar had done “anything specifically wrong.”

“I don’t think she had much to do with the case,” he said, noting that line prosecutors had handled it. “She stepped back and let them do what they were doing.”

“The one thing I would say about Senator Klobuchar is that I wish she would stop citing the Edwards case as an example of her being aggressive prosecutor,” Mr. Guerrero added. “Though certainly tragic that an 11-year-old girl died, it’s equally as bad that a 16-year-old boy was likely wrongfully convicted and sentenced to a life term in the face of an aggressive and often short sighted prosecution.”

Mr. Guerrero said that his client had already appealed his conviction several times and that “at this point we would have to bring in evidence of actual innocence” to get the case back into court. “We’re still investigating and hoping to get a wrongly convicted individual out,” he said.

Ms. Klobuchar ran the Hennepin County attorney’s office from 1999 through 2006 and oversaw Mr. Burrell’s first trial, conviction and sentencing in 2003. That conviction was eventually reversed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which found that a key statement made by Mr. Burrell should not have been used in the trial; Ms. Klobuchar was succeeded by Mike Freeman, the current Hennepin County attorney, who oversaw a second trial for Mr. Burrell, in which he was also convicted and sentenced to life in prison, officials said. Mr. Burrell was 16 at the time of the shooting and is now 33.

Though Ms. Klobuchar does not discuss her time as Hennepin County attorney as frequently as she cites her accomplishments as a federal lawmaker, she has often told the story of Tyesha Edwards at national televised debates, in interviews and when giving speeches on gun violence.

“Tyesha Edwards, a little girl that was doing her homework at her kitchen table,” she told The Washington Post in October. “Sweet, sweet child just home doing her homework so that they could go to the mall later on or something, and gang members shot through her house and killed her at her kitchen table while she was doing her homework. We went after those guys. They went to jail.”

In its report, The A.P. said the case against Mr. Burrell was overly reliant on jailhouse informants — some of whom were offered sentence reductions, cash and other incentives for information — as well as unreliable accounts from the man who was the target of the gunfire. The A.P. report also laid out a number of leads that it said were not seriously pursued by the authorities and missteps in the interrogation. It noted that no gun was recovered and no fingerprints or D.N.A. evidence were made a part of the case.

The A.P. article also said that Ms. Klobuchar denied Mr. Burrell’s request to go to his mother’s funeral after she died in a car crash during the investigation.

“I do feel badly,” the foreman of the first trial, Joe McLean, told The A.P. on Friday. “I feel, for lack of a better word, that we were misled.”

Mr. Burrell told The A.P. he believed the authorities knew that he was innocent all along.

“They just didn’t feel like my life was worth living,” he said.

-The New York Times

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