(West Virginia–August 9, 2018) Innocence Project client Philip Barnett was released from Parkersburg Correctional Center this afternoon after having posted bail set earlier today by Judge Alfred E. Ferguson of West Virginia’s Sixth Judicial Circuit in Huntington, West Virginia. The court agreed to set bail in the amount of $50,000 while Barnett’s habeas petition based on new and exculpatory DNA evidence is pending.
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“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 Karen Thompson, Senior Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that your only two children have spent eight-plus years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.”
Barnett was convicted of the 2002 crime based almost exclusively on the contradictory statements of Brian Dement. The case had gone cold for five years until police arrested Dement on an unrelated charge. Dement, who was addicted to drugs at the time, was interrogated for eight hours and gave three conflicting statements implicating himself; Barnett; Barnett’s brother, Nathan; and Justin Black, a friend of the Barnett brothers.
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All four were eventually convicted of the crime and are challenging their convictions. Nathan Barnett is represented by the West Virginia Innocence Project, Black is represented by the Exoneration Project, and Dement is represented by the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions. In June 2018, Barnetts’ and Black’s defense attorneys received results of DNA comparisons conducted by the West Virginia State Crime Laboratory that revealed a single DNA profile on a cigarette butt found on the scene that matched to the DNA profile obtained from semen found on the victim’s pants that were removed from and left beside her body. The DNA profile identified through the DNA database belonged to Timothy Smith, a man who lived in Huntington, West Virginia at the time and who has been convicted of committing sexual assault on a minor. Smith is currently incarcerated in Ohio for failing to update his address as a sex offender. The DNA excluded all four men originally convicted of the crime.
Nathan, Tammy, and Philip Barnett together before the wrongful conviction. Photo courtesy of the Barnett family.
Nathan Barnett, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, spent eight years in prison and was released in 2015. Black was released on parole in June. Dement remains incarcerated.
“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.”
Tammy Barnett, mother of Philip and Nathan who has been a relentless advocate for her sons, shared with the Innocence Project in April, “It’s heartbreaking to know that your only two children have spent eight-plus years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.”
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The case is now in the hands of the Cabell County District Attorney who must decide how to proceed with the case in light of the new DNA evidence revealing the mens’ innocence.
Nathan and Philip Barnett in court in 2011. Photo by The Herald-Dispatch.