Wrongfully Convicted Brothers Reunited After Ten Years in Jail, Thanks to DNA Evidence
Philip Barnett, a murder suspect who spent ten years in prison for a 2002 killing he did not commit was released from prison on Wednesday and reunited with his brother. Philip and his brother Nathan were both wrongfully convicted of the murder, but new DNA evidence excludes their involvement in the crime.
Nathan had already been released after serving eight years in jail. While awaiting an appeal of Philip’s case, Judge Alfred E. Ferguson of the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Huntington, West Virginia, set a $50,000 bail which Barnett met.
Both brothers were represented by the Innocence Project and in the West Virginia branch of the Innocence Project. Karen Thompson, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project, expressed gratitude for the release of Barnett.
“We are grateful that Mr. Barnett was released today and are hopeful given the strength of the DNA evidence that the District Attorney will continue to move quickly to vacate the convictions against Mr. Barnett and the others who served many years for a crime they didn’t commit,” said Thompson.
The Barnett brothers’ mother was equally grateful to have both of her sons back.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that your only two children have spent eight-plus years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit,” said Tammy Barnett, mother of the Barnett brothers.
Bad Testimony Locked Them Up, but New DNA Evidence Exonerates Them
Philip Barnett, together with his brother Nathan, and friend Justin Black were arrested in 2007 after Brian Dement, who was arrested on an unrelated charge, implicated himself and the others in a 2002 murder. The murder had gone cold until Dement’s arrest, and the conviction of the four rested largely on Dement’s testimony. However, Dement was addicted to drugs at the time and gave three conflicting statements, which implicated all four men, after eight hours of interrogation.
In the 2002 murder, the victim was raped before being killed and her pants, containing semen, were torn and placed beside her body. The West Virginia State Crime Laboratory conducted DNA tests in June of 2018 on the semen and the butt of a cigarette discovered close to the body. The DNA on the cigarette butt and semen found on the pants matched but did not belong to either of the four men serving time for the murder.
When run through a DNA database, the DNA matched to a man named Timothy Smith. Smith already had a conviction for sexual assault of a minor on his record and lived close to the murder scene at the time. He is currently in jail for failing to register as a sex offender.
All four men are now protesting the sentencing, claiming they are innocent of the charges leveled against them.
While the Innocence Project represented the Barnett brothers, the Exoneration Project represented Justin Black, and Dement is represented by the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions. Nathan Barnett was sentenced to 15 years in prison but released in 2015 after spending eight years behind bars. Justin Black was released on parole three months ago. Philip was released on Wednesday, but Dement remains incarcerated.
“It’s nice to be out…the air smells different and there is green grass on this side of the fence,” Philip Barnet said after his release and reunion with family. “I can’t wait to try and piece my life back together.”