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Donald Barnes, Jr.

Other Florida No Crime Cases
In October 2009, the 16-year-old niece of 37-year-old Donald Barnes, Jr., accused Barnes of sexually molesting her from the time she was six years old until she was 12, in Sarasota, Florida.
 
The girl told sex abuse investigators that Barnes had groped her breasts and buttocks and inserted objects such as curling irons, the handles of hair brushes, and portable tooth brush cases into her vagina.
 
It was not the first time the girl had made such an allegation. She told authorities in August of 2008 that Barnes had molested her once when she was six years old. But no charges were filed at that time.
 
Her first allegation came as Barnes, a single parent, was charged with child abuse for slapping his 11-year-old son. Barnes pled guilty and admitted he slapped the boy after discovering a video on a telephone that showed the boy tossing his 18-month-old cousin into the air dangerously close to a spinning overhead fan. Barnes was placed on probation.
 
In the spring of 2009, Barnes’s probation was revoked after he failed a drug test, and he was sent to prison. His four children went to live with Barnes’s parents. In October 2009, Barnes was brought to court for an emergency hearing on a motion by the Florida Department of Children and Families to take custody of his children.
 
The state child welfare worker on the case alleged that Barnes’s father was abusing the children. Barnes exploded during the hearing because he believed the allegation against his father was untrue. At one point, he became so enraged, that he began stalking across the courtroom while cursing at the child welfare worker. He was restrained by deputies. After the hearing, his children were placed in state custody.
 
Three weeks later, Barnes’s niece made her second and expanded allegation of sexual abuse by Barnes. Instead of one incident when she was six years old, she now claimed repeated abuse over six years involving penetration with numerous objects.
 
Barnes completed his sentence on the child abuse conviction and was released on March 17, 2010. He was charged with three counts of sexually abusing his niece on April 1, 2010.
 
Barnes said the charges were false and rejected an offer from the prosecution to plead guilty in return for an 18-month prison sentence. He went on trial in Sarasota County Circuit Court in January 2011. The girl testified that Barnes had abused her. There was no medical evidence of abuse or any corroborating witnesses. A Department of Children and Families investigator testified that the girl had described the abuse during interviews.
 
Barnes did not testify, and only his mother was called as a witness on his behalf. Several other family members who were ready to testify were not called to the stand. On January 20, 2011, Barnes was convicted of all three counts of sexual abuse of a victim under the age of 12, which carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
 
In April 2013, Barnes’s niece called the Sarasota County District Attorney’s office and said she wanted to recant because the abuse did not occur. She was asked to come into the office and she gave a statement saying the abuse did not happen.
 
The prosecution, however, did not notify Barnes or his lawyer. Weeks later, the niece—who by then was 21 years old—told other family members that she had lied and that she had told the prosecutor, but nothing had been done.
 
When family members informed Barnes of this development, he told his trial lawyer, who sent Barnes a letter stating that he had contacted the prosecution and was told by an investigator that that the complainant had “partially recanted.” Barnes filed a motion for a new trial attaching the lawyer’s letter as his newly discovered evidence. Ultimately, Jessica Wright, an attorney in Office of Regional Counsel was appointed to represent Barnes.
 
In July 2013, the alleged victim sent a sworn affidavit to the court saying that she was concerned because the prosecution had done nothing. She said she had been “manipulated and persuaded that (the abuse) had really happened” even though the abuse did not occur. She said police and social workers “kept telling me that (Barnes) should be locked up because if it didn’t happen to me, it definitely happened to my family members, including my younger sister.”
 
She apologized for lying and said she had done so due to “duress and manipulation.”
 
Wright took a sworn deposition from Barnes’s niece as well as from several members of Barnes’s family. The alleged victim consistently stated that Barnes had not committed any of the acts she had accused him of doing.
 
The niece, during her deposition, was asked how she had come up with the details of the alleged sexual penetrations. She said she and some male cousins had watched pornography on a computer and that when state investigators told her she would need to provide more details, she used details from the videos she had seen.
 
Family members all concurred that they had never witnessed any inappropriate behavior between Barnes and his niece. Several family members said in their depositions that the niece had a tendency to seek out attention and to fabricate stories.
 
On August 26, 2014, after the depositions had been presented to the prosecution, Barnes was brought to court where the prosecution said it did not object to Barnes’s motion to vacate his convictions. The motion was granted and the prosecution, admitting it no longer had any evidence against Barnes, dismissed the charges. Barnes was released after serving three years in prison.
 
– Maurice Possley
 

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Posting Date: 9/15/2014
State:Florida
County:Sarasota
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Convicted:2011
Exonerated:2014
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:32
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No