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Lamar Barnes

Other Virginia Exonerations for Murder
On the afternoon of April 4, 2002, Mark King and his girlfriend, Amy McRae, were at their house on Turnpike Road in Portsmouth, Virginia. Two teenagers, 14-year-old Adam Gregory and 17-year-old Christopher Hopkins, were also present, playing video games and smoking marijuana.

Two young men came to the house and talked with King, and then he steered these men, Gregory, and Hopkins into a back room so they could continue playing video games. At some point, King, a drug dealer, came into the room, threw a pile of money on the table, and said, “Don’t y’all wish you could roll like this?” He then left the room.

One of the young men followed King out of the room, then shot him and McRae. Gregory and Hopkins heard the shots and fled to another room and locked the door behind them. The second man broke down the door and attacked Gregory and Hopkins with a knife.

At the time, several of King’s friends were in the backyard, working on a car and repairing a fence. They heard the noise, ran to the house, and pulled the second man off the teenagers. That man then ran out the back door.

McRae, who was 22 years old, was seven months pregnant. She died that night at an area hospital, but her baby survived. King, who was 31 years old, was in the hospital for several weeks and had dizziness and memory problems. Gregory and Hopkins had minor injuries.

The Portsmouth Police Department investigated the crime. Detective David Lodge questioned Gregory and Hopkins on April 5, 2002, and they said that 17-year-old Michael Artis, who went by the nickname “Mike Mike,” was the person who stabbed them. In addition, two of the men in the backyard, James Mapp and Jeffrey McClellan, said Artis was one of the men they had seen.

Mapp told Lodge something else. He said Artis was a frequent presence at the house, and that he usually came with a young man Mapp knew only as “Jo-Jo.” Mapp also said he knew Jo-Jo from having spent time in jail with him. Lodge pulled the jail records and learned that Jo-Jo was the nickname of 20-year-old Lamar Barnes, Artis’s cousin. Lodge then had Mapp look at photos. Mapp identified Barnes as the man he knew as Jo-Jo, although he did not identify Barnes as the person he had seen with Artis on April 4.

Neither Hopkins nor Gregory had said that the shooter was named Jo-Jo. Gregory told police that he believed the man with Artis wore a do-rag and that his hair might have been in cornrows or shaved; he couldn’t be sure, because he really didn’t look at him much.

Separately, the day after the shooting, the police executed a search warrant on King’s house. They seized about six ounces of marijuana, $4,694 in cash, a police scanner and a list of frequencies, a digital scale, a Taser, and two shotguns and ammunition. An officer said the evidence was “consistent with distribution” of marijuana.

For reasons that aren’t clear from court records, the police didn’t immediately arrest Artis, instead focusing on the case against Barnes. Lodge visited King constantly to see whether his memory had improved. On May 2, 2002, King picked Barnes out of a photo lineup, although a transcript of his interview with Lodge showed he was still confused; Lodge kept having to remind King of Barnes’s nickname.

Later that day, King saw Barnes at an auto repair shop. He flagged down an officer, who arrested Barnes and took him into custody. Barnes was charged with first-degree murder, malicious wounding, and two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Lodge and Detective Ron Turner interrogated Barnes. He denied any involvement and said he was at the London Oaks apartment complex with friends at the time of the shooting. But he told police that he knew from talk on the streets who committed the shooting with his cousin. It was 24-year-old Bobby Petty. Artis turned himself in on May 6, 2002. He was charged with two counts of malicious wounding.

Six months later, on November 6, 2002, Artis gave a statement to police and confessed to committing the crimes with Barnes, whom he said was the shooter. The next day, Artis pled guilty to the two counts of malicious wounding. Prosecutors delayed his sentencing until after Barnes’s trial. According to Artis’s plea agreement, he needed to give truthful testimony in all hearings relating to the trial and sentencing of Lamar Barnes and Mark King, and his testimony had to be consistent with his November 6 statement to police.

Also on November 7, 2002, King was indicted on possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and distribution of marijuana. Separately, Gregory met with a prosecutor that day. She agreed not to bring charges against him for smoking marijuana. In a statement, Gregory said: “I admit to smoking pot in the back room with Jo-Jo and Mike Mike and Chris at Mark’s house. I have smoked pot with Mark.”

Barnes’s trial in Portsmouth City Circuit Court began on July 30, 2003. He was represented by Michael Massie. The state’s case was based on testimony from King, Hopkins, and Gregory. No physical or forensic evidence tied Barnes to the shootings.

King testified that Barnes shot him in the head. He said that he had called the police after his discharge from the hospital and identified Barnes as the shooter. King, still under indictment for the marijuana charges, denied any knowledge of the drugs or drug paraphernalia found in his house. He also said that he had not had any conversations with Massie or with prosecutors where he indicated that Barnes was not the shooter.

Hopkins testified that he did not witness either shooting, but he said that Barnes was in the back room and had left just before the shooting began. He also testified that Lodge asked him to look at a yearbook and at a photo array but never asked him to identify the shooter.

Gregory testified that Barnes was with Artis at King’s house on April 4, 2002. He identified Barnes in the courtroom but acknowledged that he had been unable to pick him out of a lineup and that he “thought” the police “might have” told him that Barnes shot McRae and went by the nickname Jo-Jo. Finally, he said that Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Almetia Fields agreed not to prosecute him for smoking marijuana because she just wanted him to tell the truth.

The first officer to respond to the shooting testified and said that Gregory and Hopkins immediately named Artis as a suspect but could only describe the second man as a Black male with a do-rag on his head. McClennan also testified for the prosecution, describing how he pulled Artis off the teenagers. He said he did not see the face of the other man, but described him as shorter than Artis. Under cross-examination, McClennan said that he had approached Massie on the day of his testimony and told the defense attorney that the prosecution had the wrong man, because Barnes was too short.

Barnes did not testify, but Massie presented several witnesses, although no alibi witnesses. Michael Voodray, who had also been in the backyard, said he saw a young Black man run out of the back of the house. Voodray said the man was about six feet tall and had short hair – “either he had a fade or had his hair in corn rows.” Voodray said he did not know Barnes. He testified that he had told another prosecutor that Barnes couldn’t be the shooter; he was too short and had too much hair.

To bolster this testimony, Massie called Christina Faulk, a hair stylist, to testify as an expert on the “texture and styling of multi-cultural hair.” She said that at the time of his arrest, Barnes had his hair in dreadlocks, and that a do-rag “would tie it down, but it wouldn’t flatten it.”

Artis also testified on his cousin’s behalf. He retracted his statement to police and said that he and Petty had committed the crime, with Petty shooting King and McRae after King flashed the money at them. He said he heard the first shot and ran to the front of the house, where he saw Petty shoot McRae. He acknowledged his previous statement to police implicating Barnes, and said he was pressured to testify against him.

“They told me so many times I’m going to get life if I don’t tell on [Barnes] and do this. I [am] eighteen years old. I got my whole life ahead of me. I ain’t trying to go to prison. I’m going to lie on him and go on home. They told me I’m going to do a year if I tell on him. I was going to, but I can’t do it. My heart won’t let me do it. I can’t live if I know I put this man away for nothing. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”

Lodge testified for both the state and defense. For the defense, Lodge testified that when creating an array for Gregory, he had used an old photo of Barnes, where his hair was cornrowed. But he used a different photo of Barnes for King. In that photo, taken at the time of his arrest, Barnes had dreadlocks. (Barnes’s appellate attorneys would later say the use of two different photos was “manipulative.”)

For the prosecution, Lodge testified that he and prosecutors visited Artis in jail just before the trial started. He said Artis told them that Barnes was the shooter but that most of Artis’s family was telling Artis to make Petty the scapegoat. Lodge also said that Petty was never a suspect in the case, even though his name “was given to me by people in the investigation.”

Petty testified for the state. He said he didn’t shoot McRae or King. Petty said he didn’t know he had been mentioned in connection with the shooting until a year later, when he met with detectives at the Portsmouth Police Department on May 15, 2003. He said he had no motive to rob anyone at the time of the shooting. The day before, he had been released from jail on a misdemeanor charge and cashed a disability check for $552. He acknowledged his lengthy arrest record, but also said he had lost his identification and that someone else was committing crimes under his name.

The jury convicted Barnes of first-degree murder, malicious wounding, and the two weapons charges on August 1, 2003. He was later sentenced to life plus 28 years in prison. After the trial, prosecutors dismissed the drug charges against King. Artis was sentenced in July 2004 to 26 years in prison for the malicious wounding counts.

Barnes began the appeals process. He later filed two state petitions for writs of habeas corpus, one alleging that Massie had provided ineffective assistance, the other claiming that prosecutors had failed to disclose an arrangement with King to give him immunity in exchange for his testimony. Circuit court judges denied both petitions.

On August 23, 2011, Barnes filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The heart of this motion was identical to his second state habeas petition and included an affidavit dated January 13, 2010, that King sent to Barnes. King said in the affidavit that he had lied and falsely identified Barnes as the man who shot him. King said that the shooting had initially harmed his memory. “I was led to believe that Lamar Barnes shot me and Amy … I believed it for a long time until I started remembering stuff [and] then I had doubts. I told Detective Lodge I thought we had the wrong person and he got mad.”

He said Lodge told Fields, who then pursued charges against him. King said his memory had still not come back by the time of the trial, and he wasn’t “100 percent sure” whether Barnes was innocent, so he testified and the charges against him were dismissed. King said his memory had finally returned and that he was positive that Petty, not Barnes, was the person who shot him and killed McRae.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Payne denied Barnes’s petition on June 20, 2012. He said that Barnes’s petition was untimely, filed more than a year after King’s affidavit. Moreover, Judge Payne said he did not consider King’s affidavit to be “trustworthy” or “reliable evidence of innocence.”

In 2018, the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law began representing Barnes and reinvestigating his conviction.

On November 1, 2021, Jennifer Givens and Juliet Hatchett, the director and associate director of the organization, filed a third state petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Portsmouth City Circuit Court. The petition claimed that prosecutors had violated Barnes’s constitutional rights to a fair trial by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence and knowingly presenting false testimony. It also said Massie’s representation was deficient, because he had failed to call witnesses, some who would have given Barnes an alibi and others who could have more forcefully pointed the finger at Petty.

King died in 2020, but he gave a statement in 2019 that further detailed how he had been forced to testify against Barnes, whom he considered a friend.

Gregory and Hopkins also recanted their identifications. Gregory, who like Hopkins and King is white, said that he had trouble distinguishing the physical appearances of Black people. He said prosecutors pressured him to identify Barnes.

Hopkins said in an affidavit that he told police he was unable to identify the person with Artis, other than he was a young Black man with a do-rag and cornrows coming out the bottom. He said the police had him look at photos to make an identification.

“I initially picked out the wrong person," Hopkins said. "The detective tried to steer me toward one particular photo, asking me if I was sure it wasn’t a certain guy. I asked them if they were sure that was the shooter, because I was not certain. They said they were pretty sure that was the right guy, and I remember assuming they were right because they solve crimes for a living.”

Hopkins had testified that he never looked at photos with the purpose of identifying the shooter, and Lodge had also testified that this was the case. The petition said prosecutors knew both these statements were false but didn’t correct them. The petition also said that prosecutors knew that King had wavered about his confidence in his identification of Barnes and failed to correct his testimony that he was sure Barnes shot him.

In 2020, Barnes’s attorneys got the prosecution files in the case, including emails. The petition said that prosecutors had not fully disclosed their interactions with King.

After King was indicted on drug charges in November 2002, he became both a witness in the Barnes case and a defendant in his own case. This was a conflict of interest, requiring the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Portsmouth City to hand off the drug case to another office. The office gave the case to the Commonwealth’s Attorney in neighboring Chesapeake City, where a former prosecutor from Portsmouth now worked.

Despite that arrangement, the Portsmouth prosecutor continued to maintain communication with the Chesapeake prosecutor. On February 19, 2003, King told Portsmouth prosecutors that he had doubts about Barnes being the shooter but quickly backtracked on the assertion. Two months later, on April 28, 2003, the Chesapeake prosecutors dismissed the charges against King, and Barnes’s attorney quickly filed a motion in Portsmouth City Circuit Court, seeking evidence from prosecutors pointing to any recantation by King. Three days later, King was reindicted.

Fields told a prosecutor in her office, “I think reindictment will shut Mark up.” She also reached out to King’s attorney and told him that his client might want to plead his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination rather than testify at the Barnes trial.

Later, the prosecutor in Chesapeake emailed Fields and told her that she was going to work on getting King’s case delayed until after the completion of the Barnes trial.

“For a prosecutor with a conflict of interest to orchestrate the case against a witness in a criminal case in order to obtain crucial favorable testimony is not only a violation … but surely meets such a standard of ‘offensiveness’ as to violate due process,” the habeas petition said.

Prosecutors said King’s charges were dismissed not because of an undisclosed deal but because Artis’s testimony at the Barnes trial was at odds with his police statement. That would make his testimony unreliable in the case against King.

The petition also said that prosecutors had not disclosed evidence about Petty that suggested he worked as a police informant and that police had not adequately investigated him as a suspect in the shooting.

Although Barnes mentioned Petty as the shooter when he was initially questioned, the police didn’t interview Petty for nearly a year. Lodge said he couldn’t find Petty, although Petty had been in custody several times during that period. Several notes in Petty’s file indicated he was cooperating with police on other matters at the time and that his criminal cases were being continued. In addition, Petty brought his disability payment records when he arrived at the police station on May 15, 2003, to answer questions about the King-McRae shooting. According to the petition, this implied that the police had talked with him prior to the interview and encouraged him to bring evidence that would support his statement of innocence.

The Petty file also included a police report from May 27, 2002. Deborah Artis had called the police and said a caller “threatened to kill her son, Michael Artis, if he testified in court. She stated that the caller may have been Robert Petty Jr.” Lodge disregarded the report, concluding “this is an attempt to blame the murder her son committed on someone else.”

Finally, the petition introduced statements from several witnesses who either provided Barnes with an alibi or said they had heard Petty talking about the crime.

For example, Robin Duff, Barnes’s mother, said she lived close to King’s house at the time; their homes each backed up to the same rail line. She said that Artis and a young man she didn’t know showed up at her house on April 4. She soon realized that Artis was bleeding. She called up her sister, who came and picked up the two young men. Later, Duff said in an affidavit, she heard about the shootings on the news and from people in the neighborhood who said Artis and Petty had committed the crime. Duff said she relayed this information, including the clothing the men were wearing, to Massie.

“Despite the fact that defense counsel had substantial evidence demonstrating that Mr. Barnes was not involved in this crime and that Bobby Petty had gone to Mark King’s house with Michael Artis, defense counsel failed to present a single one of these witnesses at trial,” the petition said.

On January 4, 2022. Gov. Ralph Northam granted Barnes an absolute pardon. Northam said the post-conviction investigation revealed “inappropriate interference by the Commonwealth Attorney at the time of the trial,” as well as the presentation of false testimony and the suppression of exculpatory evidence. The governor said the eyewitnesses had all recanted and that Barnes had a “corroborated alibi for the time of the crime.”

Barnes was released from prison on January 5. His cousin, D’Andre Barnes, who is the vice mayor of Portsmouth, told WTKR-TV that Lamar was still getting acclimated to life outside of prison, reconnecting with family and friends. “It’s going to be a long journey for him,” Barnes said. “But just understand for him in this particular matter, he was the victim.”

The Virginia General Assembly enacted legislation on April 11, 2022, paying Barnes $1.1 million in compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 1/27/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
County:Portsmouth City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2002
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No