A Compton man who has spent the last 19 years in prison after being convicted in adult court as a juvenile has been ordered to be released from prison by a Los Angeles judge, the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent announced Friday.
Emon Barnes was 15 years old when he was arrested. He was tried as an adult in 2001, convicted on gang crimes and sentenced to 40 years to life in prison, according to a news release from LPI, which has been working on Barnes’s case for nearly six years.
Attorneys described Barnes as a quiet child who wasn’t in a gang. They say his conviction was based largely on the testimony of a teen witness, who has since recanted his statements.
“We firmly believe in our client’s innocence,” LPI Program Director Adam Grant said in the release. “In fact, we uncovered substantial evidence pointing toward someone else entirely as the perpetrator.”
The legal project’s investigation into the case stalled earlier this year as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the U.S.
Barnes was incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, which has seen more than 2,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 26 deaths, according to figures from the California Department of Corrections Rehabilitation.
“We became extremely concerned about Emon’s health and safety because he has an underlying health condition,” LPI Program Director Paula Mitchell said.
Over the summer, LPI started a Change.org petition, urging Gov. Newsom to grant clemency to their client, who has sickle cell disease and would be at higher risk of severe impacts from the novel coronavirus.
LPI also reached out to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. The legal project was able to get Deputy DA Robert Grace to file a petition to resentence their client to a lower term under California Penal Code 1170(d), which would free him from prison, according to the release.
Using that, Grace and two other deputy DAs, Larry Draeger and Michael Mallano, argued in court for Barnes to be resentenced.
LPI also pointed out that California law no longer allows 15-year-olds to be tried as adults or to receive the type of sentence imposed on Barnes.
Meanwhile, Barnes contracted COVID-19 as he awaited the court’s decision. However, he recovered and has since tested negative for the virus, according to LPI. It’s unclear whether the disease will have any long-term effects on his health, attorneys added.
A judge on Friday reduced his sentence and ordered his release immediately, though that likely won’t happen until next week.
Once he’s freed, LPI attorney say they intend to help their client clear his name and exonerate him.
Since 2011, the Loyola Project for the Innocent has secured the release of 12 inmates who spent time in prison after being wrongfully convicted. Barnes will be their fourth client to gain freedom this year.