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Sentenced to life as a teen, Compton man to be freed after evidence is questioned

Emon Barnes, seen as a teenager
Emon Barnes, seen here as a teenager, will be released from San Quentin after serving 19 years for a Compton shooting after prosecutors and attorneys raised raised questions about the evidence used to convict him.
(Loyola Marymount University)

A Compton man who has spent nearly two decades in prison for a gang-motivated shooting will be allowed to leave San Quentin prison next week after attorneys and Los Angeles County prosecutors engineered his release amid questions about the evidence used to convict him.

Emon Barnes, now 34, was just 15 when L.A. County sheriff’s deputies arrested him on suspicion of attempted murder in 2001, according to Laurie Levenson, founder of the Project for the Innocent at Loyola Marymount University.

Barnes had been accused in a pair of shootings tied to gang activity in Compton, according to Levenson. He was convicted in one case, which hinged largely on the testimony of one shooting victim, who identified Barnes, and was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.

Barnes, whose father died in a gang shooting when he was just 6 months old, has long maintained he was at home with his mother at the time the gunfire erupted, Levenson said.

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“He was a nice kid. He was never a member of a gang, in part because his mother really watched carefully over him,” she said.

Lawyers with the Project for the Innocent took on Barnes’ case approximately six years ago, after the victim in the case acknowledged Barnes may not have been the shooter, Levenson said. But as the coronavirus crisis continued to wreak havoc in jails and prisons, the case took on new urgency. Barnes suffers from sickle cell disease and was considered high risk if he contracted the virus, Levenson said.

Barnes will be freed under a section of the penal code that allows prosecutors or corrections officials to seek the resentencing of a defendant due to a significant change in circumstances, including medical conditions. L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace, who filed the petition to have Barnes resentenced, said he also considered new state law that would have prevented Barnes from being tried in adult court if the same case was presented now. The law is now retroactive, Grace said.

The district attorney’s office did not find any factual reasons to void Barnes’ conviction, according to Grace. Levenson said defense attorneys will still seek to vacate his conviction, though she declined to discuss other evidence that might lead a court to do so.

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A judge approved Barnes’ release on Friday morning, and he is expected to be sent home by the end of next week, Levenson said.

Attorneys with the Project for the Innocent said sheriff’s investigators had simply been overzealous in arresting Barnes without additional evidence.

“The more we investigated, the more obvious it became that Emon was innocent,” attorney Michael Petersen said in a statement. “Emon was not in a gang. He was a quiet kid in a bad neighborhood. The police were simply way off when they set their sights on him.”


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