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Message of hope, persistence headed to University of Mississippi

In 1970, 14-year-old Barney Brown was arrested on false accusations of raping a woman and robbing her husband. It was the last time for nearly four decades that the Florida teenager would walk free.

OXFORD, Miss. – In 1970, 14-year-old Barney Brown was arrested on false accusations of raping a woman and robbing her husband.

It was the last time for nearly four decades that the Florida teenager would walk free. The next time would be upon his release from prison, finally exonerated, 38 years later.

 
Barney Brown – then and now

Brown will speak about his 38-year imprisonment – a message he said is one of hope and persistence – at 7 p.m. Tuesday (May 1) at the University of Mississippi as part of the Department of Legal Services Speaker Series. The presentation, which includes a question-and-answer session, is set for Farley Hall, Room 202, and is free and open to the public.

“His story is so compelling and it crosses many different areas of interest and disciplines on campus,” said Linda Keena, UM assistant professor of criminal justice. “I’ve asked him to share his story starting from the date he was arrested, including processing through the juvenile court and eventually through the adult court, his life imprisonment and how he stayed focused and utilized the different people that were there to help him survive in an institution.”

According to the American Bar Association Journal, Brown was first acquitted of all charges in juvenile court, and the rape victim was unable to identify him as her attacker. In violation of the Constitution’s prohibition of double jeopardy, his case was retried in adult court, where he was found guilty. Although he was offered a lesser sentence for entering a guilty plea, Brown pleaded not guilty.

In September 2008, inmate 029663’s plea was finally heard in Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit Court, and Brown was released.

“I believe that injustice to anyone is a very serious threat to justice to everyone,” Brown said. “If it can happen to Barney Brown down in Miami, Fla., it surely can happen to someone in Oxford, Miss. I believe it’s a great thing for the American public to know my story – a story of hope and not giving up, and the Constitution and the criminal justice system.

“Granted it (the justice system) was a long time in working for me – 38 years – but I believe the system does work. At the very grassroots, students and people studying in the field can make it better for all Americans. A time can come when injustice is wiped out; I strongly believe that it can be.”

While in prison, Brown earned his GED a year before his class graduated from high school, completed an associates’ degree, pursued multiple vocational opportunities and even taught other inmates how to read, he said.

“The key to my freedom was based in education,” Brown said. “I always felt that because I was wrongly imprisoned, I would someday get out and I wanted to have the education skills to be able to sustain myself on the outside. I was looking forward to a day when I would walk out of prison and be able to apply for jobs. When I got out, I had the skills.”

Brown is employed as a paralegal in Dade County, Fla. with the Benedict P. Kuehne Law Firm, the law firm that helped gain his freedom. He presents his story across the United States, is dedicated to aiding children in the system, orients new public defenders in Dade County and is a mentor in the GATE program for juvenile weapons offenders.

Keena met Brown at the Alpha Phi Sigma criminal justice honor society’s national conference in March in New York. Brown’s presentation will be beneficial to students, faculty and community members of all interests, including students studying law and paralegal studies, corrections, social work, law enforcement, sociology and psychology, she said.

“His compelling story really hits on a lot of different disciplines,” Keena said. “These are the people who are actually going to work on the streets and in the courts and the prisons and in the community. By attending, students and faculty can see the theories and procedures discussed in the classroom applied to this case and this life.”

Heather Conlon, a criminal justice graduate student from Georgia, also heard Brown speak in New York, and urges others to attend the campus event.

“It opened my eyes,” Conlon said. “His story is very moving – he never gave up when he was imprisoned for more than 30 years. It makes you realize that everyone in prison isn’t guilty. You just have to have faith that the justice system is going to do what it’s supposed to do.”

Brown said he will speak on all topics surrounding his journey to freedom, from being a juvenile in an adult prison, his supportive family and the benefits of education to his current endeavors in Dade County and his belief that hope, positive thinking and persistence conquer all.

“I’m going to share my fight for justice,” Brown said. “When I first came to prison, I said, ‘This place is designed to destroy a man, but I’m not going to allow it to destroy me. I’m going to take everything that is positive and good in prison and I’m going to leave all the negative and bad in prison.’ I believe if one persists, he will succeed whatever his goals are, and I hope I can bring that message to the students.”

(For more information on the Department of Legal Studies and the School of Applied Sciences, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/applied_sciences/.)

 

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