PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP/WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam has granted a full pardon to a man sentenced to life in prison in the 2002 killing of a pregnant woman and the shooting of her boyfriend.
Northam’s office said the pardon reflects Lamar Barnes’ innocence of the convictions.
Northam granted Barnes’ full pardon on Tuesday, then he was released from prison the next day.
“I feel good, son, I’m talking about real good, I don’t even have the words to explain it,” Barnes said on his cousin’s Facebook Live video last week.
Barnes was 20 years old when he was convicted of killing a pregnant woman named Amy McRae and shooting her boyfriend, Mark King, inside this home in Portsmouth.
Family members say King and McRae’s unborn baby girl survived but has disabilities.
King has since died from unknown causes.
About three and half years ago, the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia Law School took on Barnes’ case.
The director, Jennifer Givens, says they quickly started to see a lot of red flags.
“The conviction integrity unit and the Attorney General’s Office conducted an extensive investigation and checked all our work,” she said.
Northam’s office said an investigation found that Barnes had a “corroborated alibi” at the time of the killing, but that evidence was not introduced by Barnes’ lawyer during his trial.
Eyewitnesses who testified against Barnes, including King, later recanted their identifications of him.
“Mark King, when we first reached out to him, was extremely relieved. He apparently had been trying to contact officials and agencies for years because he know the wrong man was behind bars,” Givens stated.
Givens says after King was shot in the head, he suffered brain damage and memory loss.
She says he was told by the prosecution and police who committed the crime, and he came to believe that.
“He began to regain his memory. He realized that was not in fact true. That it was not Lamar Barnes who shot him. He made efforts even before the trial to make this clear to prosecutors,” said Givens.
Barnes’ cousin, Portsmouth Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes, says the family stayed strong all this time.
“I never lost hope and ironically, he never lost hope himself. All the conversations I had with him was more so one day when I come home,” said De’Andre Barnes.
De’Andre Barnes explained Lamar plans to help with youth outreach in the community in the future to put children on the right path.
10 On Your Side’s Aesia Toliver also spoke to Amy McRae’s stepfather, Gary Sweet, over the phone. He says he found out about the pardon in the newspaper. He says no one contacted the family throughout the pardon process.
“I was shocked and really felt like Ralph Northam kicked my daughter, my granddaughter, and my family right in the teeth on his way out the door,” said Sweet.
Sweet says Northam was his disabled granddaughter’s neurologist for 15 years before he became governor and used the girl in his political ads for governor. Now, Sweet says he’s questioning if this was all political.
He says he still believes in his heart Lamar killed McRae until he’s shown evidence to support otherwise.
“If there’s overwhelming proof that he’s innocent that’s great, I’m glad he’s out of prison. But I never got to see any of it,” said Sweet.
But, the big question still lingering is if Barnes didn’t commit the crimes, then who did?
“We know who pulled the trigger and we have named that person in our pleadings,” said Givens.
For security reasons, Givens would not give 10 On Your Side the name on air.
We’re waiting to learn if police have another active investigation into a new suspect.