BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (FOX 9) - It was a moment Marvin Haynes and his loved ones will never forget. Ten days ago, Haynes walked out of the Stillwater prison a free man after nearly 20 years behind bars for a murder he maintained all along, he had nothing to do with.
Haynes came home with a giant smile on his face, a positive outlook, and a family welcoming him back with open arms just in time for Christmas.
In the week-and-a-half since, Haynes has begun laying the foundation for his new life on the outside, including the basics -- job interviews, opening a bank account, and obtaining a driver’s license.
"Man, I am feeling good to be out here really free," Haynes told FOX 9’s Paul Blume. "That is amazing, man. I was just in a cell, literally on lockdown for the whole weekend. You feel me? So, this is beautiful, this is amazing."
Newly freed after his wrongful conviction for first-degree murder, Haynes had to pause during a recent visit to the Mall of America and take it all in.
"Hell, no they didn’t have Nickelodeon," responded Haynes. "That is why I am just like, ‘What?’ Yeah, it is big, man."
Haynes figured the last time he visited the mall was early 2004, just a few months before his arrest at the age of 16.
"Conditions were never good in prison. You know, I mean, I will never say that it was even bearable. I hated it, every second, every moment in there," said Haynes. "So, this is big, this is major right here to come out here.
"It is a lot of people in there that is wrongly convicted that will never see this because the justice system just won't give them justice," he continues. "So, for me to overcome that and be here and seeing this man, I feel good."
Minneapolis police zeroed in on Haynes as their primary suspect in the deadly shooting of Randy Sherer inside the family’s McKinley neighborhood floral shop. An apparent armed robbery attempt on a Sunday morning in May, the case rocked the community with the Sherer family never reopening their business.
In the end, there were no fingerprints, no DNA, no surveillance video, and no murder weapon tying Haynes to the slaying. Despite his insistence he had nothing to do with Sherer’s murder, a jury found Haynes guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
With the assistance of his attorneys at the Great North Innocence Project, Haynes’ case recently received fresh judicial scrutiny. His legal team demanded the court toss out the conviction due to what they argued were unconstitutional investigative tactics and reliance on questionable eyewitness identification. Following a two-day evidentiary hearing in late November, Mary Moriarty and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office had seen and heard enough.
"He was a 16-year-old boy who had little chance to defend himself against a legal system that determined wrongfully that he was guilty of this murder," said Moriarty at a news conference after Haynes’ release from prison.
Moriarty welcomed Haynes back to the courthouse with a personal, heartfelt apology and a pledge to right the wrongs of the past.
"You lost the opportunity to graduate from high school, to attend prom, to have relationships, attend weddings and funerals, and to spend time with your family around the holidays," she said. "I am so deeply sorry for that."
With his partner Shannon, who stood by Haynes through many years of incarceration, the couple is focusing on the future and making up for some of that lost time together.
There was the youthful joy and excitement of rollercoaster rides, the buzz of finding that special pair of Jordan sneakers, and the pleasure of devouring a Philly cheesesteak for lunch and some freshly baked cookies for dessert.
Haynes has no restrictions anymore, only pure freedom. And he is loving it.
"I was extremely limited," said Haynes. "But now to have my power back, to have my life back, it means so much to me. And I know now to cherish, just cherishing every moment. So, that is what I have been doing."
Beyond the food and entertainment, Haynes knows there is work to be done. He used the trip to the mall to shop for a new wardrobe, finding support from the team at Levels fashion and apparel. They had heard Haynes’ story on the news and gifted him some clothing.
"It is shocking to go from a prison system where I was treated like a scumbag and treated like I was a murderer, you know what I mean? And to get this love, man, I appreciate it," Haynes stated afterward.
And while his legal team is confident Haynes will eventually qualify for potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in state compensation for his wrongful conviction, Haynes is taking no chances.
"Give me a nice place, I deserve it," he told Blume. "You know what I mean? So, yeah, just get my life back. Just get everything in order like a man should have."
Haynes is currently interviewing for jobs and wants to use his platform to speak out and help others who believe the criminal justice system failed them.
"It's sad that it took 19 years for me to get justice, for someone to be like, you know what? We got this wrong. Let's correct it. It took that long. We should never take that long. But it happened. It is what it is. Let's help the next person so it won't be 19 years," explained Haynes.
Haynes is now looking forward to spending Christmas with his family next week, including his mom, who still struggles after suffering a stroke while he was in prison. They have not had a Christmas holiday together in nearly two decades.
As he looks ahead to the new year, Haynes said, he is anxious to lobby lawmakers, and he wants to work with the Great North Innocence Project to amplify stories of injustice and work to free others, especially those individuals he came across in prison, whom he believes were also wrongfully convicted.