MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Sunday that she was not aware of questionable evidence and police tactics used to send a black teen to prison for life when she was a top Minneapolis prosecutor.
But much of what The Associated Press found while investigating the case of Myon Burrell, now 33, would have been available to her office at the time.
Burrell was accused of firing the gun the killed 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards in 2002, as she did homework at her dining room table in south Minneapolis.
Klobuchar was Hennepin County attorney at the time, and has raised the case throughout her political career as an example of how she helped find justice for victims of gun violence.
"I didn't know about this new evidence until I saw the report," Klobuchar told Chris Wallace of Fox News when asked about allegations the teen may have been wrongfully convicted. "I couldn't have. I haven't been in the office for 12 years.
"If there is new evidence, it must come forward," she said, as she and other presidential hopefuls headed into the Iowa Democratic Caucus. "It must be considered immediately by the courts."
Klobuchar has trailed the top tier of candidates in Iowa, but she hopes to exceed expectations by touting her moderate record and ability to win in Republican-dominated areas.
The AP offered repeatedly to meet with Klobuchar to discuss the Burrell case, but she declined.
Here is some of what her office would have known at the time of the first trial:
- The case hinged on a single eyewitness — a teen rival of Burrell's who gave conflicting accounts of what he saw.
- No gun, fingerprints or hard evidence linked Burrell to the crime.
- Police video showed the lead homicide detective offering informants cash for information — even if it was hearsay.
- Burrell's codefendants said he was not even at the scene.
- The getaway driver gave a physical description and the first name of a suspect, but police did not follow up.
- Alibis mentioned by Burrell in his interrogation were not questioned by police.
- Officers did not pull a convenience store surveillance tape that Burrell said would have cleared him.
Klobuchar told Fox News she was not involved with the second trial in 2008 — which relied heavily on jailhouse informants, some of whom have since recanted. However, her office was working hand-in-hand with police in the lead-up to the second trial, the AP found. Klobuchar also told Wallace she worked with the Innocence Project, which reviews past cases.
The case against Burrell renews focus on law enforcement and policy in the 1990s and 2000s, when black and Latino communities were decimated by the war on drugs and the discredited "super-predator" theory.
Democrats joined Republicans in imposing harsher policing and tougher sentencing, leading to the highest incarceration rates in the nation's history, and some presidential candidates are having to address perceived excesses of that period.
The president of the national NAACP said over the weekend that Burrell's conviction points to a bigger problem: The eagerness of the U.S. criminal justice system to put young black men behind bars.
"We've seen this happen one too many times," Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP said in a statement.
"It is unfortunate and extremely troubling that Myon Burrell has spent the majority of his life behind bars. The lack of evidence and conflicting accounts of what transpired was reason enough for him to not be charged or convicted," Johnson said.
Even before the AP story, Klobuchar was struggling to win over black voters, who are a crucial voting bloc for the Democratic Party.
On the eve of the Iowa caucus, she told Fox News her agenda speaks to the African American community.
"It's about economic opportunity, it's about voting rights. ... That's on me, and I will keep crisscrossing the country, making my case to the African-American community, as I've done here in Iowa."
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