Marvin Haynes was 16 years old when a jury found him guilty of murdering a flower shop clerk, sending him to prison soon after for the rest of his life.
But nearly 20 years later, Haynes' conviction has been tossed out, setting him free after a judge decided the case's basis on eyewitness evidence was unreliable.
The Minnesota native has always maintained his innocence in the 2004 killing of Randy Sherer, who was fatally shot during a robbery while working in his family's Minneapolis flower shop.
Just last month, the now 35-year-old Haynes told a Hennepin County judge he had slept until 3 p.m. the day of the killing, and insisted he didn't step foot in the shop.
Haynes and his lawyers have long argued his conviction was a result of a flawed investigation by Minneapolis Police Department in which detectives falsely claimed Haynes' DNA was found at the scene and that a witness — a woman who was present in the store at the time of the shooting — identified him at the scene.
But after the Great North Innocence Project brought the case to the state's conviction review unit last year, authorities now believe the department used suggestive practices to have the witness identify Haynes as the suspect.
This is why the Hennepin County Attorney's Office agreed with Haynes' attorneys, saying after reviewing the case that Haynes' trial resting "almost exclusively" on eyewitness identification violated his constitutional rights.
"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," Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said in a statement. "Nationally, nearly 28% of exonerations involve eyewitness identification. Mr. Haynes' conviction is now one of them."
A judge made the ultimate call on the case, signing the order Monday to toss out the case, and in a way that forbids the charges from being filed again.
In a news conference later that day, Haynes said his next step would be to visit his mom, who hadn't been able to visit him in prison the last couple of years after suffering a stroke. He now hopes to get a job.
"I just want to thank everybody that supported me through this whole journey," Haynes told reporters outside the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater. "And now y'all can recognize that I'm actually innocent."
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