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Jepheth Barnes

Other South Carolina Cases
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In 1995, 51-year-old Jepheth Barnes came home from work to find he and his family were being evicted from their home in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. He discovered that his wife had secretly gambled away their bank accounts and failed to pay bills for months, resulting in the bank foreclosing on the home.

Outraged, Barnes immediately separated himself from his wife and her two children from a previous marriage—an 11-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy.

Two days later, the girl reported that Barnes had raped her. She was taken to a hospital where a rape kit was prepared, and Barnes was arrested for criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

He went to trial in Spartanburg County Superior Court in March 1996. The girl testified that Barnes raped her.

An emergency room physician who examined the girl testified that sperm was recovered, but it was nonmotile. The lack of motility suggested that it was at least 48 hours old; too old for a rape to have happened when the girl said Barnes assaulted her.

A DNA analyst from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division testified that she could not develop a complete DNA profile from the sperm but that there was sufficient information from the DNA testing to include Barnes as a possible source of the sperm. The analyst also said that she could not estimate the statistical probability that the sperm came from Barnes because she was unable to obtain a full DNA profile.

Barnes denied the accusation. On March 28, 1996, the jury convicted him of criminal sexual conduct with a minor and he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

In 2002, Doug Brannon, a lawyer two years out of law school, was appointed to investigate a claim of innocence that Barnes outlined in a hand-written motion for a new trial.

Brannon asked Ronald Ostrowski, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, to conduct DNA analysis on the physical evidence in the rape kit that was collected in 1995.

At a hearing on the motion for a new trial, Ostrowski testified that DNA test results without statistical analysis are “worthless” and unreliable. Ostrowski said he examined the testing data prepared by the prosecution’s analyst and concluded that the test had actually excluded Barnes as the source of the sperm.

A DNA sample was obtained from the complainant’s brother, who was 13 at the time the girl said she was raped. The DNA profile obtained from the biological evidence in the rape kit matched the girl’s brother.

On May 15, 2003, Judge Don Beatty vacated Barnes’s conviction and ordered a new trial. In his ruling, Beatty said that the girl’s credibility had already been called into question by the testimony of the emergency room physician, and that with the addition of Ostrowski’s testimony, Barnes was entitled to a new trial.

The prosecution then dismissed the charge and Barnes was released. Barnes later filed a lawsuit seeking compensation, but the lawsuit was dismissed. Barnes died in 2010.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/3/2016
State:South Carolina
County:Spartanburg
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1995
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2003
Sentence:16 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:51
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*