As prevalent as wrongful convictions are nationally, we rarely hear of one in Colorado. Usually they involve DNA testing. It’s important to realize that sometimes DNA is not available and there are many other causes of wrongful conviction, from mistaken eye-witness identifications to coerced confessions to fabricated testimony of cooperating codefendants. Thurman Lee Barnes, age 45, left Colorado yesterday on a bus to his home town of Memphis, after a jury acquitted him at a retrial of murdering a liquor store clerk during a robbery four years ago. In 2002, Barnes was sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted him of first degree murder, based in large part on the testimony of one of the perpetrators of the crime (the lookout during the robbery) who claimed Barnes was involved and hearsay testimony from another witness.
Barnes was convicted in his November 2002 trial after [the lookout] Rogers testified that Barnes was the second man seen on the store videotape. Another witness, Mister Master Moore, testified that Hood told him that Barnes was his accomplice in the robbery.
The appeals court reversed and ordered a new trial. The second jury saw it differently and were persuaded by Barnes’ lawyer, Rick Bednarski:
Bednarski made the store videotape a central point in Barnes’ new trial in El Paso County District Court week this week. He argued that Barnes is 6 feet tall, and the obscure figure seen only in glimpses on the tape, was much shorter. Bednarski argued that the man in the tape was actually Rogers, who is about 5 1/2 feet tall, and that Rogers falsely accused Barnes to avoid his own murder conviction and make a deal with prosecutors. Bednarski also provided witnesses who placed Barnes at a party at the time of the crime. ….jurors told the Colorado Springs Gazette that the poor quality of the store video and lack of physical evidence implicating Barnes left them with significant doubts. “For all we could tell, that could have been me on that videotape,” jury foreman Buddy Brazell told the Gazette.
While I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the case, it sounds like these jurors made the right call. When reasonable doubt exists, their duty is to acquit. As for Mr. Barnes, who spent the last three years in a maximum security prison for a crime for which he has now been exonerated, I hope he begins every day of his freedom with a few words of thanks to his defense lawyer.