Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NY: DNA to the rescue after 20 years

He doesn't know what the internet is; he's never heard of caller ID. Steven Barnes has a lot of learning to do. He's spent the past 20 years in prison for the rape and murder of a teenager, but Tuesday, thanks to new DNA evidence presented by the Innocence Project, the 42-year-old is a free man after his conviction was overturned.

On Tuesday morning, Barnes was freed and cleared of the 1985 rape and murder of 16-year-old Kimberly Simon. When the gavel fell, the courtroom erupted with applause. "I feel overwhelmed -- this is the happiest day of my life," says Barnes. "I waited for this for 20 years."

It was a moment Barnes's mother Sylvia waited for as well; she always knew her son was innocent. "We've been fighting since Day One," says Sylvia Bouchard. Sylvia had gone to the Innocence Project for help. It's a national litigation organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA evidence.

The project re-opened Barnes's case in August, compared his DNA to that found on the victim -- and it did not match. Barnes was not the killer. "If this technology had existed in 1985, Mr. Barnes would have never been arrested. [If] we had DNA in 1985, Steven would not have went to prison," says Oneida County district attorney Scott McNamara.

Barnes says he will seek compensation for the wrongful conviction. But for now, he plans to focus on rebuilding his life.
"I missed all of my 20s, all of my 30s. On January 25, I'll be 43 years old, and life begins at 40 they say," Barnes said, to laughter and applause.

The Oneida County district attorney's office says they will now work on finding Kimberly Simon's real killer. They plan to run the new DNA evidence through the criminal database.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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