20 years after his murder arrest, Marvin Haynes reflects on long journey to freedom

Sunday marks a troubling anniversary for Marvin Haynes. On this day, 20 years ago, Minneapolis police arrested Haynes for a murder he insisted he never committed. Two decades later, Haynes is now a free man and fully exonerated after he was released from prison last December.

"Absolutely, I remember, it was May 19, 2004, I can never forget that day," Haynes told FOX 9’s Paul Blume during a recent interview where Haynes discussed rebuilding his life while reflecting on the time he lost while wrongfully imprisoned.

From the Minnesota State Capitol, to New York City and to New Orleans, Haynes is now crusading for the wrongfully convicted.

"I am not trying to make up for the past," explained Haynes. "I am going to create my future. So that is what I have been doing. Just living a productive life, trying to change laws that help other people that are going through these things."

Haynes was emotional discussing his time in prison.

READ MORE: Minneapolis police won’t reopen 2004 flower shop murder after exoneration

"Yeah, I hate even crying about it because I am strong. I am real strong, you know what I am saying? So, I hate that I get emotional about it, but they did a lot of damage," Haynes said through tears. "I don't want to feel like I am weak or something, you know what I am saying? I know I am not weak because I made it through something like that. But they destroyed a lot, a lot of my life."

Now 36-years-old, Haynes is vowing to make the most of his second chance at life.

Haynes said, "I am working hard, and I am showing y'all, nothing can stop me. Like, I am a good worker. This is what society has been missing. You know what I am saying? Like I am a great person, I am a good person."

Haynes was released from prison after a Hennepin County judge vacated his first-degree murder conviction and life-sentence, faulting the reliance on "unconstitutional" eyewitness identification and other investigative tactics at the time.

Haynes was arrested on May 19, 2004, just a few days after the deadly Sunday morning shooting inside Jerry’s Flower Shop. Haynes was 16-years-old at the time.

"You lost the opportunity to graduate from high school, to attend prom, have relationships, attend weddings and funerals, and spend time with your family around the holidays, I am so deeply sorry for that," current Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty told Haynes during a post-release news conference inside the Hennepin County Government Center.

Moriarty apologized for what she called an "injustice" with no murder weapon, DNA evidence, fingerprints, surveillance images or a murder weapon ever linking Haynes to the crime.

"I used to just go talk to God and be like, 'look, God, you know, I am actually innocent,'" said Haynes, who is now adjusting to life on the other side of the barbed wire. He quickly found work after his release, earning a full paycheck for the first time.

"I was in prison working, and they were taking 75% of my check," Haynes recalled. "I am working these hard jobs, doing 80 hours in two weeks, and I am seeing $14, and I am wrongly convicted."

Haynes reports, he initially struggled to find a place to live after his prison release. In fact, a letter Haynes provided to FOX 9, shows he was turned down for his first apartment in part because he failed the criminal background check.

"I am working, I am paying taxes. You know what I am saying," responded Haynes. "I am doing what a citizen do. And I am getting denied apartments because they say I have a criminal history. You know what I am saying? Like, I ain't got no criminal history. You Google my name, you look up my name, it says, I am exonerated. I don't have a criminal record. You know what I am saying? This stuff to still be hindering me, it is shocking."

Through it all, Haynes continues to find joy in his newfound freedom — there have been shopping trips to the mall, his legislative advocacy, and celebratory freedom parties.

"I am a simple person. That is what is so crazy. Like, I am just so simple. I am just, the littlest things is what I am grateful for. Like, literally, I was walking the dog the other night, and I just looked at the stars. I mean, I just was like, 'damn, you did it,'" Haynes said. 

With his nearly 20 full years behind bars now in the rearview mirror, Haynes is bullish on the road ahead.

"The future is bright," concluded Haynes. "Like straight up, look forward to it. It is bright." 

As for his application for financial reimbursement given his wrongful incarceration, that will take time to work its way through the court process, with some experts predicting Haynes will eventually be eligible for upwards of $1 million, if not more.