In September 1996, a fight broke out between black and white teenagers at a party in Pritchett, Texas. Johnny Escalante arrived with his brother to help some friends, but was told that those students had left. While he and his brother were driving away, someone shot at the car and a bullet struck and killed Escalante. Jason Barber was in the area when the fighting broke out. Although he first told police that he didn’t have a gun, he later admitted that he had fired one warning shot in the air. At least five witnesses testified that another man, Shane Wood, also had a gun or fired shots. Another witness, who was in the car with Escalante, testified that he saw someone who did not match Barber’s physical description shoot through the back window. Wood testified that he did not own any guns, and had not shot a weapon that evening, but that he had seen Barber firing at the car. Charles McWhorter, a friend of Wood, corroborated part of Wood’s testimony. Wood and his friend testified for the state in return for the state’s agreement to drop probation revocation charges against them. A ballistics expert could not confirm that Barber’s weapon was the one that fired the gun.
In June 1997, a jury convicted Barber of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to 35 years in prison. In 2000, McWhorter led police to a gun that ballistics tests confirmed was the murder weapon, and that police linked to Shane Wood. Barber’s conviction was overturned and he was released in July 2000.
As of 2012, he had received nearly $90,000 in state compensation.
- Stephanie Denzel