Posted by Ani Lordkipanidze
There was standing room only in Gannett Auditorium on Nov. 8 when Steven Barnes, an innocent man who spent 19 years of his life in prison, told his story to the College community.
In 1989, Barnes was charged with First Degree Rape, First Degree Sodomy and Second Degree Murder. He was accused of raping and killing 16-year-old Kimberly Simon, whose body was found near the Mohawk River in Whitestown, New York. Evidence included eyewitnesses, but no serious forensic documents. He was given a 25-year sentence.
"If New York state supported the death penalty, I would have been executed," Barnes said.
Kimberly Frederick, professor of chemistry, who teaches the Forensic Science and Criminal (In)justice seminar that hosted the event, was able to arrange the meeting with Steven Barnes. When she applied for a speaker the "Innocence Project" suggested Barnes, who has been telling his story in different universities and communities in the three years since he was released.
In 1993, Barnes's younger brother discovered the "Innocence Project", a public policy organization, founded by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld in 1992, that helps exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing post-trial.
Although the "Innocence Project" represented Barnes starting in 1993, it was not until 2007 that proper technology involving short tandem repeat tests on the Y-chromosome (Y-STR) for DNA testing became available for his case.
In November 2008, based on DNA evidence, Barnes was found not guilty and was freed after serving 19 1/2 in prison. Barnes said that every day in prison was a hell for him.
"When freedom is gone, life is gone," he said. "Prison is like a war; it's not easy. You have to be strong."
After his release, Barnes was given compensation in the form of $3.5 million. He said Simon's family released a statement wishing him all the best. However, the real murderer has not yet been found.
"To realize that the wrong person was in jail wasn't fair to anybody, and it took a long time to come to terms with the fact that Steven was wrongfully convicted," said Cheryl Simon, Kim's mother, in The Observer-Dispatch, the newspaper of Mohawk Valley, where the Simon family lives. "Now, we certainly understand what his mother has gone through, too, and we just hope they can be at peace now."