By: Kristian Walker
Steven Barnes was only 19 years old when the body of his Whitesboro High School classmate, Kimberly Simon, was found raped and murdered on the side of the road in 1985. Witness testimony revealed that a man matching Barnes’ description was seen near the scene that night, as well as a truck similar to his. However, other witnesses put Barnes at a local bowling alley during the night in question. After twelve hours of questioning a couple of days after the incident, Barnes was released. It was not until two years later that he was arrested and charged with rape, sodomy, and murder.
The conviction of Barnes was based on inconclusive evidence and three forms of unvalidated forensic science. Serology results and DNA testing were found to be inconclusive, meaning they could not definitively be matched to Barnes. The first form of forensic science used was a photographic overlay of the jeans the victim was wearing and an imprint found in Barnes’ truck. This test found only that the patterns were similar. Second, hair analysis was conducted on two hairs found in Barnes’ truck. The hairs were found to be only similar to that of the victim while dissimilar to that of Barnes. There were also no findings of hair on the victim that were similar to Barnes. Finally, tests were conducted on dirt taken from Barnes’ truck and the soil at the crime scene two years later and they were found to have similar characteristics. None of these three forms of forensic science have been validated and their use in court was strictly prejudicial rather than probative. Further, a prison informant testified that Barnes confessed to the murder to him. However, the informant was not located in a cell near Barnes’ and he could not recall when or where the conversation took place. Barnes was convicted of first degree rape, first degree sodomy and three counts of second degree murder. His sentence was 25 years to life.
Barnes’ mother was shocked to hear the guilty verdict. She had raised a well-rounded and happy son. Barnes had no criminal history or history of bad behavior; he played football, did well in school, and had a lot of friends. He was “a clean cut kid” and she knew he was innocent.
It was not until 2007 that the Innocence Project was able to reopen his case. At this point in time, almost two decades later, DNA testing and forensic science had seen many advancements. The new advanced DNA testing revealed conclusive results that the bodily fluids found on the victim did not match Barnes. Barnes was freed in 2008 and officially exonerated in 2009 at the age of 43. Throughout his two decades in prison, Barnes never gave up hope and neither did his family. His mother visited him regularly and worked tirelessly to prove his innocence. Freed right before Thanksgiving, Barnes was excited to finally celebrate a holiday with his family and have a home-cooked meal. Further, he was intrigued by cellphones, social media, and the internet. Barnes stated that he is not angered by the twenty years of lost time, rather, he is excited to start his life.
Since his wrongful conviction, Barnes sued the state and won a $3.5 million dollar settlement. He also has his own snow plowing business and works with the Oneida County youth. In his spare time, he tries to travel as much as possible. His goal is to aid in improving the justice system to ensure that wrongful convictions do not continue to happen. For this reason, he works closely with the Innocence Project in an attempt to pay it forward. To this day, the actual perpetrator has not been found.
Sylvia Barnes, Mother of Exoneree Steven Barnes, Speaks (Dec. 18, 2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmPkest9yZI
After 20 years in prison, Marcy man walks free (Nov. 25, 2008), http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2008/11/da_dna_clears_upstate_ny_man_j.html.
Steven Barnes: Life After A Wrongful Conviction (May 26, 2016), http://www.wgrz.com/video/news/steven-barnes-life-after-a-wrongful-conviction/71-2202659
Group, S.B. (n.d.), Judge overturns man’s rape and murder convictions, (retrieved February 20, 2018) http://cnycentral.com/news/local/judge-overturns-mans-rape-and-murder-convictions
Press, T.A., UPDATE: Wrongly jailed NY man formally cleared of murder (Jan. 9, 2009), http://auburnpub.com/news/update-wrongly-jailed-ny-man-formally-cleared-of-murder/article_ca946c2b-d152-595e-b0c4-0b3b6c2ac248.html