Loyola Project for the Innocent Secures Release of Client Wrongfully Convicted at 15 and Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison

LPI Release- Emon & Mom
LPI client Emon Barnes stands with his mom Lorna moments after being released from Men's Central Jail on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.

LMU Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent client Emon Barnes was released Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 from Men’s Central Jail after an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Raul Sahagun on Friday, Sept. 4. Barnes, who was only 15 years old at the time of his arrest for attempted murder, had spent the last 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Barnes was greeted by his family as LPI advocates looked on. The release was covered by the Associated PressKCBS/KCAL-TV, KNX-1070 AMKPCC-FM, Telemundo and more.

Tried in adult court in 2001, Barnes was convicted of gang crimes based largely on statements by a teenage witness who has now recanted his testimony. After the jury returned a guilty verdict, one juror had a tearful change of heart and tried to take it back, but it was too late. Barnes was sentenced to a term of 40 years to life.

“LPI has been investigating this case for nearly six years, and we firmly believe in our client’s innocence,” said LPI Program Director Adam Grant. “In fact, we uncovered substantial evidence pointing toward someone else entirely as the perpetrator.”

“The more we investigated, the more obvious it became that Emon was innocent,” said LPI Staff Attorney Michael Petersen. “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.”

LPI’s investigation continued into 2020 but stalled with the arrival of COVID-19. “The pandemic created two serious problems for Emon,” said LPI Program Director Paula Mitchell. “Our office had to slow down our investigation into his case during the quarantine while, at the same time, Emon sat in a cell at San Quentin, which was experiencing a serious COVID-19 outbreak. We became extremely concerned about Emon’s health and safety because he has an underlying health condition that put him at greater risk, should he contract COVID-19.”

Recognizing the increased danger to Barnes, LPI searched for other ways to help him before tragedy struck and reached out to Deputy District Attorney Robert Grace of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office for assistance. Grace agreed to file a Petition for Resentencing under Penal Code Section 1170(d), asking the court to resentence Barnes to a lower term so he could be released.

Under current California law, 15-year-olds can no longer be tried in adult court and can no longer receive the kind of draconian sentence imposed on Barnes. Grace urged the court to review the case, take into account the recent changes in the law, and resentence Barnes to a lower term. Grace and his fellow deputy district attorneys, Larry Draeger and Michael Mallano, successfully argued that Barnes was precisely the kind of inmate Penal Code section 1170(d) was created to help.

At a court hearing this morning, Judge Sahagun resentenced Barnes to a lower term and ordered him immediately released, once the system has processed his paperwork. LPI expects he will be released sometime next week and intends to pursue Barnes’s claim of innocence so he can clear his name.