A criminal defense attorney with the Meshbesher & Spence firm, Guerrero took on Burrell’s case about four years ago after Burrell‘s father and sister came to the firm. Moriearty and two of her students in the U of M’s Child Advocacy and Juvenile Justice Clinic were retained by the Burrell family to represent him before the state parole board. At the same time, Guerrero petitioned the court to reopen the case.
In the parole hearing, Moriearty argued that Burrell’s age at the time, better understanding of juvenile brain development, and issues with the police investigation and prosecution, among other factors, were cause to release him.
After testimony from Burrell, his attorney and two supporters, the board decided to commute Burrell’s life term to 20 years and allow him to serve the remainder of the time — two years — on supervised release.
The decision came a week after an independent panel of national experts released a study calling for Burrell’s release from prison.
An Associated Press investigation revealed that some important exculpatory evidence was not introduced before Burrell’s original trial, including several recordings of jailhouse phone calls in which co-defendants “talked about the fact that they had the wrong person,” Guerrero says.
Guerrero considers the high profile case one of the most memorable of his career. “Post-conviction cases are so difficult, like trying to untie a tightly tied knot,” he says. “You have to go back and review all of the proceedings, sometimes re-interview witnesses and try to convince a prosecutor and then a judge that (a conviction) was not accurate.”
Moriearty credited Burrell’s family and the community’s major role in getting his release. “They never stopped pushing and working hard to get him out, working behind the scenes to reverse his wrongful conviction.”
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