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Court of claims awards $3.5 million to Steven Barnes for wrongful conviction

ONEIDA COUNTY, N.Y. (WKTV) - A court of claims has awarded $3.5 million to the local man wrongfully convicted of a murder he didn't commit.

Steven Barnes spent nearly 20 years in prison for the 1985 murder of Kimberly Simon.

Former State Court of Claims Judge Norman Siegel awarded Barnes the $3.5 million back in October, but the New York City law firm that represented Barnes in his claim only recently made public the settlement.

The money comes from New York State.

Barnes has been working for Oneida County Workforce development, helping released prisoners find work and housing.

In 2009, we asked Barnes, what made him choose the job.

"Guys run into these obstacles, I talk to them and they say 'what do you know,'" Barnes said. "I say 'I know. I've been in there.' And to come out into the community and try to get out on the right foot sometimes...you need assistance and help."

An Oneida County Judge vacated Barnes' conviction and sentence in November 2008, citing a joint motion by the Oneida County District Attorney's Office and The Innocence Project.

The "not for profit" re-examines convictions using advances in DNA technology.

Many people still remember the murder of 16 year-old Kimberly Simon in Whitestown back in 1985, and many of them were in court that day to see Steven Barnes, a man whose innocence they say they never doubted, set free.

One of the first things Judge Michael Dwyer did on that November day in Oneida County Court was ask court security to remove Steven Barnes' handcuffs and shackles. That's when Barnes' mother and sister began quietly crying, as the judge had cautioned against any outbursts of emotion.

Barnes' freedom came in large part thanks to The Innocence Project took on his case and, using advances in DNA technology, was able to exclude Barnes' DNA from DNA found on victim Kimberly Simon.

Barnes has missed a lot in 20 years - he knew nothing about cell phones, the internet, and his home and hometown looked completely different upon his release.

Attorney Barry Scheck, who rose to international fame defending OJ Simpson on charges he murdered his wife, founded The Innocence Project and was in Oneida County Court that day to see Barnes set free.

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