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Did Amy Klobuchar Send an Innocent Teenager to Life in Prison? Questions Mount over Her Record as DA

StoryFebruary 13, 2020
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After a surprising third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is attempting to gain ground in the national polls. But Klobuchar is also facing mounting scrutiny over her record as a district attorney in Minnesota. The Minneapolis NAACP, Black Lives Matter Twin Cities and other racial justice groups recently called on Klobuchar to suspend her presidential campaign following a shocking investigation by the Associated Press. The AP report centered on the case of Myon Burrell, an African-American teenager who was sentenced to life in prison over the 2002 murder of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. Klobuchar led the case against Myon Burrell when she was Hennepin County’s district attorney, but the AP report says she may have mishandled the case and that Burrell could be innocent. The Associated Press report shows how prosecutors had no DNA or fingerprints tying Burrell to the murder and that they relied on jailhouse informants, some of whom have since recanted their testimonies. Burrell has always maintained his innocence. On the campaign trail, Klobuchar has cited the jailing of Burrell as one of her achievements and brought up the conviction during a debate in September. We speak with Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights attorney, activist, head of the Racial Justice Network and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. “It’s shocking at this point that Amy Klobuchar is still in the race for president of the United States, given the significance of Myon Burrell’s case,” she says.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to the U.S. presidential race. After a surprising third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is attempting to gain ground in the national polls. But Klobuchar is also facing mounting scrutiny over her record as a district attorney in Minnesota. The Minneapolis NAACP, Black Lives Matter Twin Cities and other racial justice groups recently called on Klobuchar to suspend her presidential campaign, following a shocking investigation by the Associated Press.

The AP report centered on the case of Myon Burrell, an African-American teenager who was sentenced to life in prison over the 2002 murder of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. Klobuchar led this case against Myon Burrell when she was Hennepin County’s district attorney. But the AP report says she may have mishandled the case and that Burrell could be innocent. The Associated Press report shows how prosecutors had no DNA or fingerprints tying Burrell to the murder and that they relied on jailhouse informants, some of whom have since recanted their testimonies. Burrell has always maintained his innocence.

On the campaign trail, Klobuchar has cited the jailing of Burrell as one of her achievements. She brought up the case during a debate in September.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: We found the shooter, and we put him in jail. We did the same for the killer of a little girl named Tyesha Edwards, who was doing her homework at her kitchen table and was shot through the window.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Senator Klobuchar was grilled about the case by Sunny Hostin, co-host of The View.

SUNNY HOSTIN: I’ve reviewed the facts of that case, and it is one of the most flawed investigations and prosecutions that I think I have ever seen. When you look at it, you have your homicide detective on tape offering informants 500 bucks apiece for names. When I looked at it, I also saw that Mr. Burrell’s alibis were — alibi witnesses were not looked at. His surveillance tapes were not looked at. I mean, how do you defend something like that to someone like me, who is the mother of a black boy, a black teenager? This case would be my worst nightmare.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, Sunny, I’ll start with this: I’ve been very clear, all of the evidence needs to be immediately reviewed in that case, the past evidence and also any new evidence that has come forward. I’ve called for that. …

SUNNY HOSTIN: Well, you’re a U.S. senator now. You’re a powerful woman.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Yes, yes.

SUNNY HOSTIN: What do you intend to do to right this wrong?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, I’ve called for the office and the courts to review the evidence. That is what we must do in the justice system. I’ve also worked extensively with the Innocence Project in my previous job, and we reviewed all the serious cases we had that involved DNA evidence. This one didn’t. But we involved — reviewed those cases. I pioneered a new —

SUNNY HOSTIN: It had no gun, it had no DNA evidence, and it had no fingerprints.

JOY BEHAR: Are we prosecuting Amy Klobuchar today?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. So, this is a case that must — It must be reviewed.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunny Hostin of The View questioning Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday.

We go now to Minneapolis, where we’re joined by Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights attorney, activist, head of the Racial Justice Network, former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP.

So, if you can talk more about the significance of this case? Now, very clearly, Senator Klobuchar brought it up herself to show how, you know, her competence is putting people in jail who killed an 11-year-old child. Explain what you feel is wrong, and the significance of this AP investigation.

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: It’s shocking at this point that Amy Klobuchar is still in the race for president of the United States, given the significance of Myon Burrell’s case, the fact that he was merely a child himself at the time that he was brought into the criminal justice system. When he was first interrogated by police — eight hours, no attorney, his mother in the next room — he asked for his mother 13 times. And he was denied that opportunity to even consult with his mother. He has maintained his innocence from the beginning.

And in spite of that information, Amy Klobuchar has exploited this case. She has exploited the tragic death of Tyesha Edwards, the 11-year-old child who was killed in this situation through an accidental shooting outside of her home. And she exploited Myon Burrell, using his name or using this case repeatedly throughout her career and to bolster her career. As a matter fact, when she ran for the Senate in 2006, she put forward a commercial that included Tyesha’s mother and other victims of crime, demonstrating that she was tough on crime. I do not feel that she has any remorse for what she did to Myon and the impact upon his family and the community. And she is continuing to deflect away questions about her role in the unjust and wrongful conviction of Myon Burrell.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you talk about Myon inside being interrogated as a 16-year-old. He repeatedly asked for his mother. His mother was just outside that room, demanding of the police that she be inside with her son, and they told her no. The day before he was indicted, and she was visiting him in jail, she was driving home, and her car went off the road. She hit a tree, it exploded, and she was killed?

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Yes. Knowing that Myon did not get to even pay his mother respects at her funeral is something that still shocks me to this day —

AMY GOODMAN: She did not allow —

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: — just the level of callousness and cruelty.

AMY GOODMAN: She did not allow him?

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: No, Amy Klobuchar did not allow Myon Burrell to attend his mother’s funeral, claiming that he was a threat to public safety. I have seen people who are incarcerated in prison be allowed to leave prison and go and pay their last respects to their family members at funerals, but Amy Klobuchar denied a child this opportunity.

Again, Myon Burrell has continued to maintain his innocence. The co-defendants in this case have come forward — in particular, the person who pulled the trigger, back several years ago, saying that Myon Burrell was innocent and taking responsibility for the crime. But his words have fallen upon deaf ears. And so Myon continues to pay the price, having been locked up for roughly 18 years for a crime that he did not commit.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, to be clear — 

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: And —

AMY GOODMAN: To be clear, he has been offered plea deals that would get him out now, and he has said, “No, I won’t plead guilty to a crime I didn’t commit”?

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. He is a strong man of faith, and he does not believe that he should have to plead guilty to a crime for which he did not commit. And he said that he’s not only doing this for himself, he’s also doing this for Tyesha.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you are calling for — the NAACP, Black Lives Matter Twin Cities are calling for Amy Klobuchar to suspend her presidential campaign. Can you explain why?

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. I believe that Myon Burrell’s case, coupled with Amy Klobuchar’s predatory behavior as a prosecutor, should be disqualifying. We know that with the current president in office, there have been a lot of concerns surrounding his questionable conduct, his ethics, his rhetoric. We are seeing similarities in terms of the way that Amy Klobuchar conducted herself as a prosecutor and the way that she is responding to this case. Instead of accepting responsibility, acknowledging her mistakes and rolling up her sleeves to help set Myon free, she is continuing to sidestep these questions, absolve herself of responsibility and minimize the significance of sending an innocent black teenage boy to prison for life. That is simply unconscionable, and it is unacceptable. And those are not the qualities that we need to see in our next president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about this BuzzFeed report. “Klobuchar has also been criticized for failing to bring charges against a single police officer who killed a citizen in her eight-year run as the top prosecutor in Minnesota’s most populous county. There were more than two dozen police-involved killings in that period.” Nekima Levy Armstrong, can you weigh in here?

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. Amy Klobuchar received the endorsement of police unions when she ran her various campaigns. And as a result, she did not hold police officers accountable. She worked very closely with the Minneapolis Police Department, that has had a long history of corruption. As a matter of fact, about $4.8 million in lawsuits were settled against the Minneapolis Police Department in 122 police misconduct cases during the time period in which Amy Klobuchar was the Hennepin County attorney. And so she had a very close relationship with police.

The black community called her out consistently for not holding police officers accountable. As a matter fact, a shooting of a teenager happened in 2004, and that teenager’s mother sent Amy Klobuchar a letter asking her to not use a grand jury and to charge the officers who killed her son. Amy Klobuchar did not even respond to that mother’s letter. And this was an African-American woman simply demanding justice on behalf of her child.

AMY GOODMAN: Nekima Levy Armstrong, I want to thank you for being with us, civil rights attorney, activist, head of the Racial Justice Network, former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now!is accepting applications for paid, year-long news production fellowship here in New York. Go to democracynow.org for details. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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