Man found innocent, released three years after murder conviction


GILMER, Texas (AP) - After three years behind bars, an East Texas man wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder has finally gone home.

Jason Barber, of Pritchett, said goodbye to his 35-year prison sentence this week after his conviction for a 1996 killing was overturned and police arrested a different man for the crime.

When he got the news of his release on Thursday, Barber, a husband and father of one, told the Longview News-Journal, ``Man, it's about time.''

After Barber's release from a Palestine lockup, the 24-year-old was greeted by his wife, Debbie, and daughter, Rachel, as well as his parents and other relatives Friday afternoon at the Upshur County Justice Center.

The group cried joyful tears as they surrounded Barber, smothering him with hugs and kisses.

``I know that friends and family and the strength of God put in me got me through this,'' Barber told the newspaper. ``My wife and little girl were there for me every weekend. I'm just elated.''

He had been convicted in June 1997 for the shooting death of Johnny Escalante, 15. But recent evidence uncovered by Barber's attorney convinced experts that Barber had not fired the shot that killed Escalante.

Upshur County sheriff's deputies on Tuesday arrested William Shane Wood, who has been charged in the Escalante slaying, according to the News-Journal.  Wood is in the Upshur County Jail on a $1 million bond.

Escalante, of Gilmer, died from a bullet wound to the back of the head. He was shot while sitting in the passenger seat of his brother's truck as he and his brother, Gabriel, left a party at the Barber family property near Pritchett on Sept. 21, 1996.

Barber's attorney, Melvyn Brouder of Dallas, received a tip about a .357-caliber Magnum that authorities believe was used to kill the teen. The gun was found buried under a barn in Upshur County, according to Brouder.

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