MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who was a teenager when he was sent to prison for life in a high-profile murder case — then released 18 years later when his sentence was commuted — was charged Friday with gun and drug felonies after police said they found a handgun and drugs in his SUV during a traffic stop.
Myon Burrell, now 37, made his first court appearance Friday, where bail was set at $50,000. His attorney said Burrell denies the allegations.
“As in so many criminal prosecutions, things may not be as they first appear,” said his attorney, Paul Applebaum. “I am particularly interested in the circumstances surrounding the initial traffic stop of Mr. Burrell."
Burrell was previously convicted in the 2008 death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, a Minneapolis girl who was doing her homework when she was hit by a stray bullet. Burrell was 16 at the time of the slaying and was sentenced to life. He always maintained his innocence, and his prosecution and punishment raised questions about the integrity of the criminal justice system.
The Associated Press and APM Reports in 2020 uncovered new evidence and serious flaws in that police investigation, ultimately leading to the creation of an independent national legal panel to review the case. That led the state pardons board to commute Burrell’s sentence after he had spent more than half his life in prison. However, his request for a pardon was denied so his felony conviction for first-degree murder remained on his record, making it still illegal for him to have a gun.
Burrell was arrested on Tuesday, and charged Friday with one count of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person because of his prior conviction, and one count of possession of a controlled substance. The complaint says officers in suburban Robbinsdale who searched his SUV found a Glock 17 9 mm handgun with an extended magazine in the center console. The presumptive sentence on the gun charge is five years under state guidelines.
Burrell appeared before Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the 2021 trial of former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in a case that forced a national reckoning on race and policing. Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22 ½ years in prison.
In a courtroom full of Burrell’s relatives and supporters, Cahill put several conditions on Burrell's bail, including that he not possess a gun or other weapon, and that he stay away from illegal drugs. He also set Burrell’s next court date for Oct. 17.
Applebaum told reporters afterward that Burrell denies the allegations and would be able to make bail.
He would not concede claims that Burrell possessed or controlled a gun or had drugs in his car, “but if he did I guess it might not be a real stretch of the imagination” for Burrell to believe he needed a gun for protection.
“If he was culpable, if he was responsible for that gun, maybe people would understand that, when you are literally raised in a prison, that your thought process isn’t the same as the rest of ours,” Applebaum said.
“You have a young African American male, it’s a dangerous world out there, so it’s not inconceivable that if you lived in that environment that you might have a gun,” Applebaum said. “He wasn’t out there waiving the gun around, he wasn’t brandishing it, it was in a center console. I think it’s easy for people who live in relative safety and prosperity to judge people who maybe live in dangerous neighborhoods about how you should conduct yourself.”
The Dakota County Attorney's Office is prosecuting the case because the Hennepin County Attorney's Office has a conflict of interest. Burrell was a paid staffer on County Attorney Mary Moriarty's 2022 campaign, and she had worked for his release when she was a public defender.
According to the complaint, a Robbinsdale police officer on routine patrol stopped Burrell after seeing his SUV cross the center line twice while going above the speed limit of 30 mph. It says the officer approached the driver's side and when Burrell, who was alone in the car, rolled down the window, “smoke appeared to billow out of the vehicle ... and the officer detected a very strong odor of burnt marijuana and what appeared to be marijuana remnants on the center console.”
The officer said he observed that Burrell's eyes were red and glossy and his pupils were dilated, and that Burrell did poorly on a field sobriety test. It said he denied the officer permission to look in his vehicle.
“The officer advised Defendant that he would need to have a seat in his squad car, and Defendant began walking away. The officer the took Defendant by the arm to sit in his squad car and Defendant pulled away and began to actively resist the officer. After more efforts to resist, Defendant was eventually placed in handcuffs and secured in the officer's squad car,” the complaint alleges.
The complaint says police found a backpack in the rear seat containing two plastic bags of suspected marijuana, a bag with 21 capsules containing a crystal-like powder, another bag with 16 suspected ecstasy pills, and a digital scale The suspected marijuana field-tested positive, while one of the 21 capsules field-tested positive for methamphetamine and one of the 16 pills field-tested presumptively positive for ecstasy, it said. The complaint did not give a weight for the marijuana; possession of up to two ounces became legal in Minnesota on July 1.
Blood and urine tests results were pending, the complaint said.