The AP found major irregularities in the case against a teenager who was sentenced to life in prison, prosecuted in 2002 by current presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar.

On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar has often cited a case – a life sentence given to black teen for killing a young girl – as proof of her tough-on-crime bona fides as a former prosecutor. 

Over the course of a year, Minnesota-based investigative reporter Robin McDowell examined the case against Myon Burrell, who was 16 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the 2002 death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. McDowell reviewed more than a thousand pages of police records, court transcripts and interrogation tapes, and interviewed dozens of inmates, witnesses, family members, former gang leaders, lawyers and criminal justice experts.  

She found that the case relied heavily on self-interested jailhouse snitches, orchestrated by police who did not follow all leads while paying for the information they wanted to find. And she interviewed a fellow defendant who said he was the gunman, not Burrell. 

McDowell worked closely with photojournalist John Minchillo, who shot photos and produced a video piece that included a jailhouse interview, witness accounts and footage of police interrogations in the case. Other contributors were Washington-based producer Jeannie Ohm, North Carolina-based national writer and video journalist Allen Breed and Asia-based investigative reporter Margie Mason.

The resulting package has had impact, forcing new scrutiny of the case and raising questions about Klobuchar’s record. Civil rights organizations held a demonstration in Minneapolis to demand that Klobuchar join with others to reexamine Burrell’s case. The presidential candidate was asked about it in New Hampshire, and then again on “Fox News Sunday.” The victim’s father and the jury foreman at Burrell’s trial spoke to the AP, decrying the failures of the system, while filmmaker Ave DuVernay tweeted: “Blistering article.”

The story appeared on the front page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and was given impressive play across the web by The Washington Post and USA Today, among others. The New York Times ran its own followup, crediting AP. 

For dogged reported that shed new light and focused attention on the case against a man who has long said he was wrongfully convicted, McDowell wins this week’s Best of the States award.