Minneapolis, MN — In a historic ruling, Hennepin County Judge William Koch vacated Marvin Haynes’ murder conviction, dismissed his charges with prejudice, and ordered his release from prison where he was sentenced to serve life. Haynes walked out of MCF-Stillwater as an exonerated man into the loving arms of his family and supporters on Dec. 11, 2023.
Marvin Haynes was 16 years old when he was framed for murder by the Minneapolis Police and Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. Haynes’ wrongful conviction was supervised by former Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court years later in an appeal.
After a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief was filed and evidentiary hearings were held in November 2023, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty and Judge Koch agreed to vacate Haynes’ conviction. The judge ruled that Haynes’ due process was denied because his conviction relied on “constitutionally improper” eyewitness evidence.
Proclaiming his innocence since being arrested in May 2004, Haynes remained hopeful his truth would be heard. Along with his sisters, led by Marvina, and his family and advocates, the fight for Marvin’s freedom never ceased despite falling on deaf ears for nearly two decades.
The Great North Innocence Project (GNIP) took up Haynes’ case in late 2022. Their legal team and staff found new evidence of coerced and false testimony along with faulty police procedures. An expert reviewed the suspect line-up techniques and witness processes applied by the police. Witnesses signed affidavits recanting previous testimony as well as Haynes’ family swearing he was at home sleeping at the time of the murder. Based on these findings, GNIP submitted an application of exoneration to Minnesota’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU), which they helped create, in December 2022.
GNIP attorneys and staff then took the fight for Haynes’ freedom to the court itself. They filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief in the District Court of Minnesota in June 2023 which ultimately led to Haynes’ vindication.
The state responded to the petition in July and waived the statute of limitations in this case. An amended version of the petition filed in October specifically stated that Haynes “was denied his right to due process … because his conviction relied on constitutionally defective eyewitness identification evidence.”
Evidentiary hearings were ordered after the court received the amended petition, read the Amended Petition for Post-Conviction Relief below.
Two days of evidentiary hearings were held in late November and at least eight testimonies were heard. On the first day, Monday, Nov. 27, Dr. Nancy Steblay testified. Dr. Steblay is a world-renowned expert in police procedures in relation to eyewitnesses and a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Augsburg University. She had previously provided GNIP with a 60-page report on faulty police eyewitness identification procedures used in Haynes’ case.
Also testifying on Monday, after being granted a request to not be filmed, was former Minneapolis Police Sergeant Michael Keefe. Keefe said he was overruled by his superiors when speaking against the line-up procedures being done. He also testified that Haynes’ conviction was the only case out of thousands of felony investigations that he worked in which he doubted the convicted individual’s guilt.
On the second day of hearings, Marvin, along with four of his sisters Marquita, Sherita, Cynthia and Marvina, and his cousin Isiah Harper, testified. (See videos of the testimonies published by Georgia Fort in links on names.)
Marvin and his sisters stood firm in what they’ve said since Marvin’s arrest — that he was at home at the time of the murder and he didn’t do it. Harper testified he was threatened and coerced by Minneapolis Police and Hennepin County attorneys to lie and say that Marvin was the killer. Harper is due to be released from his current incarceration in April of this year and he previously shared his story with Unicorn Riot in November 2022.
One final witness who was set to appear, Ravi Seeley, got sick and court was rescheduled to take place on Dec. 20. However, in the next days, the courts decided they’d heard enough and an agreement was struck with the courts, the county, and Haynes’ legal team.
GNIP lawyers were able to get patched through to Haynes in Stillwater prison on Dec. 6 to tell him over the phone on his 36th birthday that his conviction was soon to be vacated and he would be a free man. “That was the best birthday present I ever received,” said Marvin.
The order to vacate Haynes’ conviction was filed on Dec. 11 and signed by Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, Judge Koch, and GNIP managing attorney Andrew Markquart. Read Judge Koch’s order to vacate Haynes’ conviction below.
A press conference was held shortly after Haynes was released. Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, GNIP Attorney Andrew Markquart, and Marvin and Marvina Haynes spoke and answered questions.
Moriarty opened up the conference explaining some of the deceptive practices authorities used to lock Marvin up. She personally apologized to Haynes for the office, that she now runs, wrongfully convicting him. She blamed the Minneapolis Police for using “coercive and discredited tactics to get witnesses to identify Mr. Haynes” and said the Hennepin County prosecutor then “used this information to obtain a wrongful conviction.”
“The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office bears responsibility from taking almost 20 years away from Marvin Haynes and his family,” Moriarty said “it is not easy to admit and correct our mistakes, but it is necessary.”
“We cannot undo the trauma experienced by those impacted by this prosecution, but today we have taken a step toward righting this wrong. This morning, Judge William Koch signed an agreement made by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and the defense to set aside Mr. Haynes’ wrongful conviction. Mr Haynes walked out of prison this morning, a free man.”Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty speaking at the press conference following Marvin Haynes’ exoneration
The legal system failed the victims and their family, said Moriarty, as the real killer was never found.
An upbeat Andrew Markquart, the lead on Haynes’ legal team, said he’s “really come to admire” Marvin as a man. He said Marvin “has every right in this world to be bitter, to be angry, but he’s not. He carries himself with this remarkable sense of hope and positivity.”
Markquart thanked Moriarty and the attorney’s office for “looking seriously at the evidence in this case” and vacating Haynes’ sentence. “This act really embodies the principle that the prosecutor is supposed to be a minister of justice and not merely an advocate in our adversarial system,” he said. He also thanked Moriarty for waiving the two-year statute of limitations on post-conviction claims as it’s “exceedingly difficult” to bring a claim if you’re more than two years out. She saw justice prevailing over finality and process, he said.
“I think we have a real problem” when the courts use time over justice, Moriarty later said. The commonplace processes and finality within the courts have prevented wrongfully convicted individuals the ability to achieve justice as new evidence and other such issues arise later in time in certain cases. She said they need change the approach where “even if you are innocent” and you don’t “submit your new evidence or your case within a certain period of time” and the courts say “too bad.”
“The truth prevailed!” said Marvin, who spoke briefly. He thanked his family, GNIP, Mary Moriarty and the judge. “I’m just appreciative of people to recognize my innocence. It’s been 19 years but I’m here and all I wanna do is move forward and get my life back.” He said he couldn’t wait to go visit his mother, whom he hadn’t seen since she had a stroke over three years ago.
Haynes got emotional when speaking about his sister Marvina’s efforts to get him out of prison. “Words cannot describe what she means to me and my family.”
“If it wasn’t for my sister and the Innocence Project, I wouldn’t be here. My sister lost so much trying to fight to prove my innocence. She neglected herself in the process of me getting my life back. Words cannot describe what she means to me and my family.”Marvin Haynes speaking at the press conference following his release from prison and exoneration
Haynes’ sister Marvina thanked the community for their support and specifically thanked Unicorn Riot, Star Tribune, and Fox 9 for publishing stories on Marvin. “Why does it take so much time for an innocent man” to have his story heard and to gain his freedom, asked Marvina.
“Its time for all the innocent people to get their life back,” said Marvin. He said he spent 19 years talking with many innocent inmates.
Dozens of other Black men, who were youth in the 2000s, have been calling out what they deem their own wrongful convictions. “Like many Black boys at the time, our criminal legal system too easily wrote [Haynes] off, failed to protect his rights and sent him to prison,” said Moriarty at the press conference.
During the reign of Hennepin County Attorney’s Mike Freeman and Amy Klobuchar, “the state prisons became the Blackest places in [Minnesota’s population],” said Michelle Gross to Unicorn Riot, the President of Communities United Against Police Brutality. “The prison population of people of color increased by over 300% during that time period.”
In a similar case to Haynes, however two years apart, Myon Burrell was wrongfully convicted of a Minneapolis murder and sentenced to life in prison before he was able to get his sentence commuted and released from prison after pressure from the community during Klobuchar’s run for presidency in December 2020.
Many other families have been pushing the names of other prominent inmates like Phillip Vance, Deaunteze Bobo and Cornelius Jackson, to name a few, who also proclaim their innocence.
Many of whom have already submitted applications into the previously mentioned CRU, the state’s first ever unit to review convictions. The unit has proven, so far, to be inefficient in its efforts despite it’s creation and outward zest to review wrongful convictions — it had received 1,000 applications and had completed one investigation in its first two years. Haynes’ application to the CRU had yet to be reviewed by the time Haynes was exonerated by the court. However, the procurement of more funding over the latter part of 2023 has a potential to increase its viability.
To help solve the elusiveness of justice for the wrongfully convicted, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said that her office is in the process of rolling out a prosecutor initiated resentencing and a Hennepin County Conviction Integrity Unit.
Summary of Marvin Haynes’ Case
Marvin Haynes was accused of robbing a flower shop in North Minneapolis and fatally shooting 55-year-old Harry “Randy” Sherer in May 2004. He was charged with assault and murder despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Haynes was found guilty by a jury in a 2005 trial.
Proclaiming innocence after the verdict, Haynes’ exhorted “I didn’t kill that man.” Haynes was sentenced to life in prison. Haynes’ attempt for a new trial was then denied and his legal team filed an appeal which was also denied in July 2006 by then Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar. Finally, in January 2007, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld his conviction and life sentence as Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea found no abuses by the state or district court in Haynes’ prosecution.
In 2023, Unicorn Riot published a four-part investigative series on Haynes’ case as well as a 33-minute film [YouTube link, Vimeo link] overviewing thousands of pages of documents provided by GNIP and family investigator Robert Johnson and featuring exclusive interviews and findings.
The Case of Marvin Haynes follows a tortuous path created decades ago in Minneapolis by county attorneys, overly ambitious, racist cops, faulty eyewitness identification procedures, pressure from those in power to find a shooter quickly, and a series of coerced teenage witnesses. That path ends at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater, where Marvin Haynes was sentenced to spend his life and so many men like him sit behind bars.
Read the statement released by Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty on Dec. 11, 2023:
“Almost twenty years ago, a terrible injustice occurred when the state prosecuted Marvin Haynes. We inflicted harm on Mr. Haynes and his family, and also on Harry Sherer, the victim, his family, and the community. We cannot undo the trauma experienced by those impacted by this prosecution, but today we have taken a step toward righting this wrong.
Mr. Haynes’ conviction rested almost exclusively on eyewitness identification. There was no forensic evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA. There was no video connecting him to the crime. The murder weapon was never recovered. That should have made any prosecutor hesitant to bring charges because eyewitness identifications are often unreliable and one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. Nationally, nearly 28 percent of exonerations involve eyewitness identification. Mr. Haynes’ conviction is now one of them.
I am proud to lead the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and the public should know we seek to do the right thing every day. Doing the right thing sometimes means we must seek to undo the harms of the past, not defend them. And that is what we have tried to do today. It is not easy to admit and correct our wrongs. But it is necessary.
To Marvin Haynes: You lost the opportunity to graduate from high school, attend prom, have relationships, attend weddings and funerals, and be with your family during holidays. For that, I am so deeply sorry. And for that, I commit to correcting other injustices and to making sure that we do not participate in making our own.”Statement by Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, Dec. 11, 2023
Haynes also has an ongoing civil suit alleging Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and Minneapolis Police withheld documents and information they’re compelled to provide from the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. A donation page has been created to help Haynes get back on his feet.
Cover image of Marvin Haynes via GNIP.