Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic presidential candidate, regularly cites her role in prosecuting the person responsible for the murder of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards as a way to bolster her credibility as an advocate for racial justice.
However, the person she helped put in prison for life was another black teenager, Myon Burrell — and the legal process that resulted in his conviction was riddled with shortcuts and flaws, according to the Associated Press.
Edwards was shot and killed by a stray bullet in 2002 while she was sitting in her home doing homework in Hennepin County, Minnesota, where Klobuchar was county attorney from 1999 until 2007.
The shooting inflamed racial tensions in the community, which was still dealing with the consequences of the war on drugs and perceptions of minority gang members as dangerous "super predators." Authorities were under immense pressure to secure a conviction in Edwards' death.
There was only one eyewitness in the case: 17-year-old Timmy Oliver, who was a gang rival of Burrell's. Oliver claimed he could see the 5-foot-3 Burrell shooting even though he was obscured by a wall that was 5 feet high, and he was standing about 120 feet away.
Ike Tyson, who was 21 at the time, has confessed that it was he, not Burrell, who fired the shots that killed Edwards. He said Burrell wasn't even on the scene. He said he and another person wanted to fire some warning shots to scare Oliver, who had waved a gun at them recently.
But Tyson said he was under pressure from police to implicate Burrell, who had been named by a prison informant who was motivated by the potential to get his sentence reduced. The informant gave up Burrell's name after a conversation with Oliver — who later told a friend he actually didn't know who fired the shots, because he couldn't see where they were coming from.
Tyson is serving a 45-year sentence.
Police were willing to pay "major dollars" for names, even if they were only hearsay. The chief homicide detective at that time paid a man $500 for giving Burrell's name up as a the shooter.
Authorities called on at least seven jailhouse informants leading up to the second trial. One of them, Terry Arlington, said he was coached on what to say and offered a 16-year reduction on his sentence in exchange for his cooperation.
"They basically brought me through what to say. Before I went before the grand jury, they brought me in a room and said … 'When you get in, hit on this, hit on this.' I was still young and I had fresh kids that I was trying to get home to, so I did what they asked," Arlington told AP.
Oliver, the only eyewitness, died in a shooting in 2003, before Burrell's case was retried. Police don't want to take Tyson's word that he was the actual shooter, claiming his inconsistency of accounts takes away his credibility.
"I already shot an innocent girl," Tyson said. "Now an innocent guy — at the time he was a kid — is locked up for something he didn't do. So, it's like I'm carrying two burdens."
According to the Associated Press, the gun used in the shooting was never recovered. Fingerprints were insufficient for identification. And police didn't run a ballistics test on Tyson's jacket to check his assertion that he was actually the shooter.
Burrell has refused to even confess to being at the scene of the crime, even though he knows doing so could've allowed him to be out of jail by now.
Klobuchar said through a spokesperson that Burrell was tried and convicted twice, and that if there is any new evidence it should be reviewed immediately. She was no longer the county attorney at the time of the second trial.