Minneapolis, MN — “We are asking for his immediate release!” Cynthia Haynes demanded passionately, calling for her brother’s release from prison while holding two signs – one read “Free Marvin Haynes Now,” the other, “Justice 4 Marvin Haynes.” As the case of Marvin Haynes starts to gain more media attention, family and supporters held a press conference demanding he be freed from prison. On March 16, 2023, Haynes’ family and advocates gathered in the atrium of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis and addressed the media.
Marvin Haynes was just 16 when he was imprisoned and subsequently charged, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a 2004 Minneapolis murder. Despite no evidence tying him to the murder, coerced testimony of teenagers, and Marvin’s incessant claims of innocence, Haynes has remained in prison for nearly two decades. See our ongoing investigative series on Marvin Haynes here and find more below.
Two of Marvin’s sisters spoke during the press conference that was hosted by long-time organizer Trahern Crews of Black Lives Matter Minnesota. Other speakers included DJ, an organizer, and Michael Toussaint, the father of Myon Burrell, who was wrongfully accused of murder and released from an 18-year prison stint in 2020 after a public campaign.
The cases of Marvin Haynes and Myon Burrell are eerily similar and have a number of the same players involved. Watch the edited version of the press conference below and the full length version at the bottom of the article.
Family Members Speak Out
Standing in front of a bulky row of news cameras, Marvin’s younger sister Cynthia Haynes spoke first at the March 16 press conference. She revealed that Marvin was her “protector” and that he did things that her father was “unable to do.” When he got imprisoned, they took that safety net from her.
“We’ve missed out on our brother for 18 years, of course things are difficult… You guys have taken him and made him bound to something that he didn’t put his hand to. He didn’t do anything to be in prison.”Cynthia Haynes, sister of Marvin Haynes
Marvin’s older sister, Marvina Haynes, has been a steadfast advocate for her brother for years, pushing for his case to be reviewed. Speaking at the press conference, she gave a run down of the specific evidentiary findings that show her brother’s innocence. She noted how Marvin didn’t match the description provided by the witness, how police used faulty line-ups and a 2002 mug shot of Marvin although the murder occurred in 2004, among other issues.
She also made the connections between Myon and Marvin’s cases. She questioned “how many more juveniles” in Minneapolis this has happened to.
Marvina Haynes called for Marvin’s release. She called for Mary Moriarty, the new Hennepin County Attorney, to review Marvin’s case and to exonerate and free her brother. Marvina goes over her brother’s legal battle in our feature, The Case of Marvin Haynes (33 min).
Michael Toussaint, Myon Burrell’s father, said he continues to hear the same names, including Mike Furnstahl and Amy Klobuchar, when discussing the cases. He called on the public to try to comprehend how they’d feel if it were their child that had to spend 18 years in prison for a crime they didn’t do — or to try to sleep every night in prison for something you didn’t do, like his son. He said the authorities told Myon that he couldn’t speak on the case but never told him not to. “I feel like this right here. They’ve never even apologized for my son doing 18 years,” Toussaint said.
Toussaint, who said he was reluctant to speak at first, decided to address the crowd after remembering the support he and Myon received during their struggle to overturn the conviction. Toussaint said he “thought it was people like them that helped me… so why wouldn’t I not speak up for somebody else’s child?” Not negating that “someone got killed in that flower store,” he implored the authorities to “do the right thing. If you know this man is innocent and it’s on paper, why shouldn’t he be free?”
Similar Cases: Marvin Haynes (2004) and Myon Burrell (2002)
Coerced jailhouse testimony — sentenced to life as a teenager for a Minneapolis murder — police investigators — prosecutor Mike Furnstahl — former Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar. With these overlapping features, the cases of Myon Burrell and Marvin Haynes are connected.
Myon Burrell was a teenager when he was charged and convicted for the 2002 murder of 11 year old Tyesha Edwards, who was doing homework after school in her South Minneapolis home when she fell victim to a stray bullet during a gang-related shooting.
The shooter, Ike Tyson, identified Burrell. Tyson’s testimony and others from inmates, who were given reduced sentences and money in exchange for their cooperation, was used to convict Burrell for the killing. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2003. Tyson later admitted he lied: he shot Edwards.
Burrell’s freedom didn’t materialize until Klobuchar ran for president in 2020 and investigators looked into what happened to Edwards and Burrell. (Read the independent panel’s report (pdf) on Myon Burrell’s conviction and sentence, published in December 2020.)
A large, public campaign that included call-ins, petitions, and direct actions at Klobuchar campaign spots helped to free Burrell and led to Klobuchar withdrawing from the presidential race.
Burrell had his life sentence commuted by the Minnesota Board of Pardons, resulting in “the substitution of a lesser or different type of punishment for that imposed in the original sentence.” With that, Burrell continues to have the murder conviction on his record. His case has been under review by Minnesota Attorney General’s Office Conviction Review Unit (CRU) since February 2023.
Marvin Haynes was a teenager when charged and convicted for the 2004 murder of 55 year old Harry ‘Randy’ Sherer during a botched robbery attempt of Jerry’s Flower Shop in North Minneapolis. Despite no evidence linking him to the scene, having an alibi, and Marvin’s consistent claims of innocence, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Similarly to Myon, Marvin was interrogated for several hours by police without his mother, an adult, or a lawyer present, despite pleas to have his mother be with him and informed of his whereabouts. During the process leading up to Marvin’s trial, Minneapolis Police officers threatened several teenagers in custody that they would do “half the time Marvin” got if they didn’t lie and say that Marvin was involved in the murder.
Haynes has been working on getting his case heard for years. And “people are finally listening to his story,” his sister Marvina said.
After thoroughly reviewing Marvin’s case, the Great North Innocence Project submitted an application (pdf) to CRU calling for Marvin’s full exoneration in December 2022. It’s unclear when the CRU will begin to review Haynes’ case. “We’re just demanding that they speed up the process because we hand delivered them the package,” Marvina said during the press conference.
On April 25, the community is holding a rally at Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office to “demand transparency” from the CRU, noting the family has “not received an update.”
Both of the murder cases were very high-profile — the killing of Tyesha Edwards and of Harry Sherer were devastating to their respective communities, who in turn demanded swift justice. This led to overzealous investigations and prosecutions being handed down from what statistics have shown to be a clearly racist institution.
“We had high hopes on the police department, on the system, doing the right thing. But that never happened for Marvin.”Marvina Haynes, sister of Marvin Haynes
During the recording of our film The Case of Marvin Haynes, Michelle Gross, President of Communities United Against Police Brutality, told Unicorn Riot the mentality during that time period “was just literally, we’ve got to do something about the street crime and we don’t give a damn who did it. We’re just going to lock up all these guys.”
“So we had a situation where we had Mike Freeman was a prosecutor, then Amy Klobuchar took over as prosecutor and then went back to Mike Freeman again. And during that time period, there was a enormous amount of [things] in the media… pressure to put people away for all of these murders. And so what we saw was just a real kind of wholesale effort to not even find out who did it, but just to get somebody prosecuted for these things and to get them into the prison system. During that time period, the state prisons in the state became the blackest places in the entire state. The prison population of people of color increased by over 300% during that time period.”Michelle Gross, President of Communities United Against Police Brutality
In turn, Haynes’ and Burrell’s case are among dozens and maybe hundreds of cases that are now being questioned for the investigative practices of the Minneapolis Police and the prosecutorial practices of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office during the early 2000s. More and more families are coming out each year with stories about wrongful convictions and over-sentencing.
Michael Toussaint noted during the press conference that police ‘rail-roading’ innocent people into being guilty suspects happened frequently.
“…It happened so much in the neighborhoods … It’s done happened to so many people. It’s not [just Myon]. He just opened the floodgates of all the other people that’s been convicted through police pressure, the justice system, the railroad, the track that run through here every day.”Michael Toussaint, father of Myon Burrell
“We need to start looking at all the cases that Amy was attached to,” said DJ, an organizer in Minneapolis, “and we need to start freeing these people because they’re showing that there is a pattern of them not having enough evidence to actually convict these people.”
DJ finished by speaking to those incarcerated, reassuring both those on the inside and supporters at the press conference that they remain committed to freeing wrongly convicted inmates.
“We can’t just sit here and just let these people rot in prison. And for everybody that has been wrongfully convicted and is in this terrible prison system, I just want to tell them that we still love you, we still care for you, and we’re coming to get you out of there. All power to the people! -All power to the people!”DJ, human rights organizer and radio show host
Watch the full video of the press conference below.
Over the last year, Unicorn Riot has been investigating Haynes’ murder conviction and publishing our findings in our ongoing series, The Case of Marvin Haynes. Get access to all of our specials and watch our 33-minute film by clicking the image and links below.