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Free at Last

Steve Barnes, Courtesy of Syracuse.com

Steve Barnes, Courtesy of Syracuse.com

Photo Credit: Syracuse.com

Written By Sierra Jiminez
Produced By Landon Sears

UTICA, N.Y. — It was the summer of ’89. And at an age when most 23-year-old males have their entire lives ahead of them, Steven Barnes saw his life vanish before his eyes.

Barnes was convicted of the rape and murder of his fellow Whitesboro High School classmate 16-year-old Kimberly Simon– a sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment.

For almost 20 years, Steven Barnes says he lived a nightmare—paying for a crime he didn’t commit. Each day, he says he witnessed violence in prison.

“I was on hell on earth for 20 years. That’s what I call prison, hell on earth,” Barnes said. “You walk in the yard and you could feel the tension.”

But in January, that nightmare ended. Barnes was completely exonerated of the charges against him after forensic science lab tests concluded that the DNA found on Simon’s body did not match Barnes’.

Project Innocence

The Innocence Project originally took Barnes’ case in 1993, but it wasn’t until just last summer that they had a break through.

Barnes is one of 23 people in the State of New York to be exonerated based on DNA evidence. If not for the Innocence Project, it would have been another 5 years until Barnes was eligible for parole. Even then, Barnes says he never stood a chance at seeing free grounds again.

“All I can say is thank God they still saved the evidence in my case,” Barnes said. “And thank God for the Innocence Project. If they didn’t help me get my case back going, I’d still be in jail.”

Life after Innocence

After nearly two decades in prison, Barnes has missed out on a large portion of his life. His grandparents died. New additions to the family have been made. And friends have come and gone.

“You can’t put a price on twenty years, what I’ve been through in prison, what I’ve lost,” Barnes said. “I’ve lost the best part of my years.”

When he left, he says he had a “special woman” in his life. That’s all gone now.

“I probably would have been married to her,” Barnes said. “I could have had a family and kids.”

But one thing has stayed constant in his life: family.

“When I was in prison, my family was in prison with me,” Barnes said. “They’re the only ones who stick by you… Your friends are there, they write, but they don’t like to come and visit.”

He lives in his mother’s house now, piecing his life together. For him, he says every day is a holiday. He’s even considering writing a book about his experience in prison.

“I want my story out there to show people what happened to me,” Barnes said. “I didn’t do it. That’s my word. I swear on a stack of bibles, I had nothing to do with this case.”

Police say they’re re-opening Kimberly Simon’s murder case. And Barnes says he’s willing to cooperate in any way he can to find her killer.

“The person who really did this is still out there,” Barnes said. “They’ve been running free for 20 years.”

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