MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - It was a dramatic moment in Hennepin County District Court on Tuesday, as a convicted killer, serving a life sentence, told the judge he did not do the crime 20 years ago.
"Why are you here today, nearly two decades later, still fighting your case?" asked attorney Andrew Markquart.
His client, Marvin Haynes responded, "Because I am innocent, 100 percent."
Haynes has always maintained his innocence in the 2004 Minneapolis flower shop slaying of Randy Harry Sherer, a case that rocked the community and shattered two families.
Sherer’s final resting place, a peaceful spot set on top of a mound inside Lakewood Cemetery, was freshly tidied this past week. The very same week, Sherer’s violent and senseless death on May 16, 2004 received fresh judicial scrutiny in a Hennepin County courtroom.
Markquart asked, "Marvin, did you murder Harry Sherer?"
"No," was Haynes’ response.
Sherer no longer has any immediate family members around, but the pain and grief of what happened that spring morning still lingers, still hurts.
"He was just soft-spoken, really down to earth," recalled Pete Press, a life-long friend of Sherer. "He's like a big, big teddy bear."
Press cannot believe it has been nearly two decades since he heard his dear friend’s unforgettable vocals, two decades since they jammed out and attended concerts together.
"It just kind of blew me away," Press told FOX9’s Paul Blume in an interview outside his home. "But, you know, so sad to see somebody go, you know, way before his time, something tragic like that. You don't expect to happen."
It was Sunday at about 11:30 a.m. when Sherer was gunned down inside his family’s long-time business at 33rd and Lyndale Avenue North.
Jerry’s Flower Shop was a Minneapolis McKinley neighborhood staple for 43 years.
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.
"When a crime occurs like this, it is a tremendous loss for the family. But it is a loss for the whole neighborhood," then Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar said at a news conference at the time. Klobuchar is now a U.S. Senator.
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 and lives out of state. He told Blume he is certain authorities got this one right even though there were no fingerprints, no DNA, no gun, no surveillance video putting Haynes in Jerry’s Flower Shop.
"You know, that is a typical murder case. I mean, to think that you normally get DNA and fingerprints and physical evidence, and you locate the gun, all that stuff, that is the stuff you see on CSI, on the news and on TV," Furnstahl said.
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 William Koch.
His attorneys blasted the police procedures used at the time, including what they describe 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 have 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 are demanding 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 counters 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 is hoping the judge's re-examination keeps Marvin Haynes behind bars.
The Sherer family never recovered from Randy's murder. They closed the flower shop immediately after the shooting and never reopened.
Judge Koch is waiting to hear from one additional witness in the case on Dec. 20. He will then get up to four months to issue his ruling.