The Case of Marvin Haynes – A Unicorn Riot Investigative Series

In 2004, Randy Sherer, a 55-year-old white man, was killed in Jerry’s Flower Shop in North Minneapolis. Charged for that murder was Marvin Haynes, a young Black 16-year-old. Despite Haynes’ insistent claims that he was innocent and no physical evidence linking Haynes to the murder, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In 2023, Unicorn Riot published a four-part investigative series, a 33-minute film, and continued reporting on The Case of Marvin Haynes.

On December 11, 2023, Haynes was exonerated, had his murder conviction vacated and was released from prison. A donation page has been created to help Haynes get back on his feet.

In the investigative series by contributor Ryan Fatica, we walk you through the case of Marvin Haynes — from the murder of Randy Sherer at Jerry’s Flower Shop in Minneapolis’ Northside, to the ensuing investigation and trial. Along the way, we’ll talk to witnesses, family members, community activists, ex-cops, and politicians about the case and the broader context in which it unfolded — the tough-on-crime era that packed the nation’s prisons with disproportionate numbers of Black and Brown people, and the ruthless reign of Amy Klobuchar as Hennepin County Attorney.

[Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourThe FilmHaynes’ ExonerationFurther Reporting]

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 and so many men like him sit behind bars.

Four of those teenage witnesses have since recounted their testimonies, providing statements to the Great North Innocence Project describing how they were coerced by police into going along with the frame-up. We also visited the state prison where Marvin’s cousin Isiah Harper is being held. He told us how Minneapolis Police and Hennepin County Attorneys coerced and threatened him to lie during his testimony.

Watch our 33-minute film [YouTube link, Vimeo link] produced by Unicorn Riot’s Niko Georgiades, featuring the former witness along with Marvin’s sister Marvina Haynes, family investigator Robert Johnson, former Minneapolis Police Officer Sarah Saarela, and founder of Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), Michelle Gross. See the vault of case documents.

​​The Case of Marvin Haynes – Part One

The first in a Unicorn Riot investigative series on the case of Marvin Haynes brings you to the interrogation room with police and 16-year-old Haynes.

The Case of Marvin Haynes – Part Two: The Murder of Randy Sherer

We look at the murder of Randy Sherer and the context of the economic abandonment of Minneapolis’ Northside in which it occurred, in part two of our investigative series.

The Case of Marvin Haynes – Part Three: The Framing of Marvin Haynes

We walk you through the investigation into Randy Sherer’s murder and the subsequent frame-up of Marvin Haynes and make thousands of pages of case documents, police reports, interview transcripts, affidavits of witnesses, trial transcripts, and a recent report from the Great North Innocence Project available to the public.

The Case of Marvin Haynes – Part Four: The Trials of Marvin Haynes

“I didn’t kill that man. They all going to burn in hell for that, I swear.” The final article in our investigative series focuses on the trial that led to Haynes’ conviction and life sentence for a murder despite no evidence.

Summary of investigative series: In 2022 and 2023, Unicorn Riot conducted interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of court documents, trial transcripts and police reports in the course of our investigation into Haynes’ case. Those documents and conversations revealed a pattern of police coercing teenage witnesses, an investigation completely lacking physical evidence linking Haynes to the scene, repeated violations of police eyewitness identification procedures, and an overall pattern of racial bias.

In the midst of our investigation, one of the state’s key witnesses, Marvin’s younger cousin Isiah Harper, admitted to lying about Marvin’s guilt at trial. Harper, who was only 14 at the time of the murder, told Unicorn Riot that cops got him to say what they wanted him to say by threatening him with decades behind bars. They continued to coerce his testimony despite him telling judges and juries repeatedly that he was lying and that the police had made the story up. The publication of this series started in early February, with part four being published in April 2023.

Documents for Download

Trial and Appeal Documents [2000s]:

Application to the Conviction Review Unit by the Great North Innocence Project:

Main link:

Further Reporting

Marvin Haynes Exonerated and Released From Prison After 19 Years

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.

Limited Funds Stunt Minnesota’s Conviction Review Unit — Families Want Expediency

With hundreds of applications to review, the CRU has officially only completed one investigation in nearly two years.

Minnesota’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) has received nearly 1,000 applications of wrongful incarceration to review but with only a couple paid staff and four grants in two years, impacted families complain about lengthy waits while the CRU say they lack capacity and funding. Created to prevent, identify, and remedy wrongful convictions, the state’s first-ever CRU began accepting applications in August 2021 — after the first quarter of 2023, it had completed only one official investigation.

Seeking transparency on the unit as time continues to pass, advocates and families of many wrongfully incarcerated people languishing in Minnesota prisons have publicly confronted the CRU, complaining of inaction. One of the main organizers behind the demands for expediency is Marvina Haynes. Read the full in-depth report.

Rally Demands Marvin Haynes’ Release from 19 Years Wrongful Imprisonment

On May 19, 2023, the 19th anniversary of Haynes’ incarceration, a rally demanding his release took place at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.

Marvin Haynes’ Family and Supporters Demand His Release from Prison

“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.

[Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourThe Film]

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