Nearly two decades after being convicted of murder, 36-year-old Marvin Haynes was released from the Stillwater prison Monday morning after a Hennepin County judge vacated his conviction.
“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,” Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said in a statement. “We cannot undo the trauma experienced by those impacted by this prosecution, but today we have taken a step toward righting this wrong.”
The Great North Innocence Project, which represented Haynes, said in a press release Monday that Moriarty’s office agreed to vacate Haynes’ conviction following a November evidentiary hearing during which attorneys “presented evidence showing that the identification procedures used to convict Mr. Haynes were inconsistent with best practices and unnecessarily suggestive.”
Hennepin County Judge William Koch signed an order Monday vacating the conviction, writing that “absent introduction of the unconstitutional eyewitness identification evidence, it is doubtful there would have been sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.” In the order, Koch also wrote that “there was no physical evidence linking [Haynes] to the
“I want to thank the Great North Innocence Project, Julie Jonas, my family and friends, and everyone who supported me through this long journey,” Haynes said in a press release.
Haynes was 16 years old when he was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Harry Sherer at a North Minneapolis flower shop in May 2004. Sherer’s sister, Cynthia McDermid, was working at the flower shop when a man posing as a customer entered the store inquiring about a flower arrangement. The man then drew a gun on McDermid and demanded money. Sherer then approached and his sister ran out of the store for help. As she exited, she heard shots ring out. When police arrived, they found Sherer had been shot to death.
According to the Great North Innocence Project, Haynes’ conviction relied on the testimony of eyewitnesses who “expressed doubts about their identifications to investigators.”
The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Haynes’ conviction in 2007. According to the court’s decision, multiple people testified that Haynes confessed to the crime in private conversations.
In his Monday order, Koch wrote that “other evidence presented by certain then-juvenile witnesses was internally equivocal at best and inherently contradictory at worst.”
“The eyewitness evidence was the strongest, most compelling evidence linking [Haynes] to the crime. And it was constitutionally improper,” he wrote.
“We are delighted to see Marvin finally regain his freedom and for the truth of his
innocence to win out. We are thankful to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for recognizing the strength of Marvin’s claim and for demonstrating the most noble ideals of the prosecutor in recognizing past errors and prioritizing justice as the highest value,” said Andrew Markquart, an attorney with the Great North Innocence Project.
Moriarty, a former public defender, said the case lacked forensic evidence such as fingerprints or DNA, video footage, and the murder weapon.
“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,” Moriarty said. “Nationally, nearly 28 percent of exonerations involve eyewitness identification. Mr. Haynes’ conviction is now one of them.”
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, was the Hennepin County attorney at the time of Haynes’ conviction.
Moriarty also apologized to Haynes for the harm caused to him and his family by the conviction.
“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,” Moriarty said.
Haynes was released from the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater late Monday morning. He was serving a life sentence.