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After 19 Years In Prison, Compton Man Released Amid Push To Exonerate Him

Emon Barnes with his mother, Lorna Duvea, after his release. (Robert Garrova/LAist)
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Emon Barnes was released from custody today after serving 19 years in prison for a shooting he says he didn’t commit. But he wasn’t cleared of the crime; instead, the 34-year-old was set free in part because of his medical condition.

Barnes was greeted by cheers and clapping from his mother, Lorna Duvea, along with other relatives and staff from Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent. The project has been seeking Barnes’ exoneration for six years.

"It’s been a long time coming," Duvea said, fighting back tears outside downtown L.A.’s Men’s Central Jail, where Barnes was released.

Barnes has sickle cell disease, which his attorneys said heightened his health risk should he contract the coronavirus. That prompted the L.A. District Attorney’s office to work with the Project for the Innocent to request resentencing.

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In addition to Barnes' high COVID-19 risk, they based their request on changes in the juvenile sentencing law and his good conduct in prison, according to the Project for the Innocent. While a judge was considering the case, Barnes contracted the coronavirus in San Quentin prison. The judge ultimately ordered Barnes released.

Barnes was arrested in 2001 for attempted murder when he was 15 and tried in adult court. He maintained he was at home with his mother at the time of the shooting, but he was convicted and sentenced to 40 years.

Barnes' lawyers said in a statement that he was "convicted of gang crimes based largely on statements by a teenage witness who has now recanted his testimony."

Under a new California law, Barnes would not have been tried as an adult for crimes he allegedly committed as a teenager. That law is also retroactive, and Deputy DA Bobby Grace, who filed the petition to have Barnes resentenced, told the Los Angeles Times he also took that into consideration.

The Project for the Innocent said in a statement that it “intends to pursue Barnes’s claim of innocence so he can clear his name.”

As of early this afternoon, more than 7,000 people had signed an online petition asking Governor Gavin Newsom to grant clemency and commute Barnes’s sentence.

Barnes, who said his family and lawyers were always by his side, said it was scary dealing with COVID-19 on top of his sickle cell disease.

“I just kept fighting through it,” he said. “I kept praying. As I kept praying, Loyola kept fighting for me.”

Barnes said he plans to spend time helping youth and the Project for the Innocent.

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