MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - A judge has vacated the first-degree murder conviction for Marvin Haynes, who was sentenced to life in prison for a 2004 murder at a Minneapolis flower shop.
Hennepin County Judge William Koch on Monday morning signed an order vacating Haynes' conviction in the slaying of Randy Harry Sherer at Jerry's Flower Shop. Haynes, who was 16 at the time of the 2004 crime, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2005.
Koch recently held a two-day post-conviction hearing on Haynes' case in which Haynes insisted he was innocent nearly 20 years after the crime.
Judge Koch, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office and Haynes' defense team agree Haynes met his burden of proof that the Minneapolis Police Department investigative lineups violated Haynes' due process rights and should not have been admitted at trial.
Haynes' overturned conviction prompted his immediate release from prison at MCF-Stillwater. He walked out of prison around 11 a.m. on Monday, at which point he thanked everyone for supporting him.
"Now you all can recognize that I'm actually innocent," Haynes said outside of the prison on Monday. "I'm happy I can correct my narrative. I'm so happy …. I'm going to go see my mom."
What the judge's order says
In an order signed by Judge Koch, the court held "that absent introduction of the unconstitutional eyewitness identification evidence, it is doubtful there would have been sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction."
A press release from the Great North Innocence Project said the Hennepin County Attorney's Office agreed to vacate Haynes’ conviction after the evidentiary hearing during which Haynes' attorneys presented evidence showing the identification procedures used to convict Haynes were inconsistent with best practices and unnecessarily suggestive. The state agreed "the interests of justice would be served by dismissing with prejudice all charges."
In the order, Judge Koch also noted that "there was no physical evidence linking [Haynes] to the crime scene."
Read the full order at the bottom of this page.
‘Best day of my life’
Sherita Harris, Haynes' sister, told FOX 9 she found out a few days ago her brother would be released, noting the first thing she's going to do when he walks out of prison is "Run to him."
"It's been 19 years since my brother was wrongly convicted. This is the best day of my life right now," Harris said. "I'm happy. I thank the lord. The [Great North] Innocense Project are my heroes."
What happened at Jerry's Flower Shop
It was Sunday in May 2004 at about 11:30 a.m. when Sherer was gunned down inside Jerry's Flower Shop, his family’s long-time business at 33rd and Lyndale Avenue North.
By all accounts, Sherer was killed protecting his sister during an armed robbery attempt. The young male assailant ordered a bouquet from her, supposedly for his mother's birthday. That is when he pulled out a silver handgun and demanded money. Sherer stepped out from the back of the store. His sister ran out the door as shots rang out. Sherer was killed. The slaying sent shockwaves through the city.
Following up on a tip, Minneapolis police would quickly zero in on their suspected gunman, 16-year-old Marvin Haynes. Haynes was arrested, indicted, and ultimately convicted on a count of first-degree murder that would ultimately send the young man away for life.
"I have absolute confidence that he is guilty of that," said Mike Furnstahl, who prosecuted the case. Furnstahl is now retired but said he's certain authorities got this right even though there were no fingerprints, no DNA, no gun, no surveillance video putting Haynes in Jerry’s Flower Shop.
The Sherer family never recovered from Randy's murder. They closed the flower shop immediately after the shooting and never reopened.
From the outset, Haynes’ loved ones stood by Marvin, insisting he was home, sleeping about a mile away when Sherer was killed.
Assisted by the legal team at the Great North Innocence Project, Haynes was recently granted an extraordinary post-conviction evidentiary hearing by Judge Koch. His attorneys blasted the police procedures used at the time, including what they described as faulty line-up techniques, reliance on questionable eyewitness identification, and alleged coerced testimony, arguing Haynes never got a fair trial.
Among the issues they singled out are discrepancies with how Sherer’s sister first described the gunman who put a firearm in her face. She has since passed away. Her initial reports on age, hair, size, and even the way the suspect spoke and demanded cash, appear to diverge significantly from Haynes’ teenage appearance. She would also pick out a separate suspect in an early photo lineup she was shown with "75-80% certainty."
Additionally, Isiah Harper now says he was pressured by the Minneapolis Police Department to incriminate his cousin Haynes. He has since recanted his original statements and testimony that Haynes had admitted to him that he had shot someone. Haynes’ lawyers demanded Judge Koch review the case file and new evidence and toss out the conviction.
"Your honor, we are here today because Marvin Haynes has spent nearly two decades in prison for a crime he did not commit," stated Great North Innocence Project attorney Markquart, during a brief opening statement to the multi-day hearing.
"I am always open to reconsidering something," said Furnstahl. "I do not want an innocent person being sent to prison. I am confident that an innocent person was not sent to prison in this situation."
Furnstahl countered that the whole case was fully litigated, and survived an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
"I think the reason that Marvin Haynes was allowed a hearing on a post-conviction petition is not because there is credible evidence of his innocence. I think it is because the political winds are blowing in his favor," concluded Furnstahl, who hoped the judge's re-examination would keep Marvin Haynes behind bars.
Hennepin County Attorney's Office on Haynes' wrongful conviction
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty on Monday released the following statement:
"Almost 20 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."