Innocent but Ten Years on San Quentin’s Death Row
My name is Lee Max Barnett. I used to be a bit of a hell-raiser.
I lived in the mountains near Chico, California where I dredged for gold
and mixed with some pretty dubious people. I am no saint. For
example I have used alias names several times to avoid paying taxes, and
I used to grow quite a lot of marijuana. About twelve years
ago things started to get out of hand, I was framed for a murder and now
I have spent ten years on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison for a murder
I didn’t commit.
Drugs and Bikers
In the summer of 1984 a large quantity of the marijuana I was growing was stolen. When I learned that the thieves were Bill Cantwell and his friends - members of a local biker gang who manufactured liquid methamphetamine (crank oil) I decided to take their drugs. When Richard Eggett, who knew the gang, led me to the laboratory I took 25 gallons of crank oil, worth over a million dollars, intending to hold it until they returned my marijuana.
You won’t be surprised to hear that Cantwell and associates came after
me. Eventually, a year later, while travelling with Richard Eggett,
who they correctly suspected of having helped me find their laboratory,
they came upon my camp. They jumped out of their truck with guns
drawn, but I happened to be in the trees by the latrine, and I too had
a gun because of rattle snakes, bear and boar in the area. I fired
a shot in the air and told them they were under citizens arrest.
I then disarmed them, tied them up, and bargained with them over what should
happen now. They agreed that if I untied them and went off
to get their crank oil they would no longer pursue me, and would give me
a share of the drugs. I went off but I didn’t return.
The Miscarriage of Justice
My trial was a farce. State witnesses lied, and the appointed Defense Attorneys refused to look for witnesses who were present. These witnesses would have told the jury that the State witnesses were lying and that I didn’t beat, or kill the victim. Two of Cantwell’s friends, who testified for me, stated that Cantwell had told them he had framed me, but the silver-tongued prosecution argued that they were lying, and they were not believed. No one testified that they had seen me kill Eggett, though they falsely claimed that they had heard Eggett crying in pain when I was alone with him. I was therefore forced to take the stand, to testify that they had lied. The lawyer appointed to defend me, did not defend me. He allowed the prosecution to ask improper questions and he behaved as a second prosecutor, arguing that I was guilty. He also tried to dissuade Cantwell’s friends from testifying in my favour.
I was found guilty of the torture, kidnapping, robbery and the murder of Richard Eggett. This was based upon the lies of the State’s witnesses, and on the arguments of the prosecutor and appointed attorney. The charges of kidnapping (a citizen’s arrest, made in self defence) and torture ensured that I received the death sentence.
After The Trial
In January 1992 Bill Cantwell shot himself in the head and died. This happened shortly after he had confessed to Kenneth Clumpus that he had killed Eggett. Clumpus later told him (untruthfully) that he had secretly taped this confession. Cantwell’s replied that he was not prepared to go to prison for the murder. The suicide of the real murderer leaves me as the only person to blame.
My appeal, earlier in 1998, was no more successful than the original trial. This was because the appointed attorneys were forced upon me and they refused to raise over 200 serious errors. I had obtained an enormous amount of material in my defence, including sworn statements from several witnesses swearing to my innocence and to Cantwell’s guilt, but the appointed appellate attorneys refused to use much of it unless I paid them more.
My State-appointed attorneys are now asking for $100,000 for investigations to support my final appeal. This sum is completely beyond the means of my family, but if I do not pay it they say they will confine the evidence to material already used in my earlier, unsuccessful court appearances, and I’ll be executed
I Had No Motive - Cantwell Did
I hope the above has at least convinced you that I was denied a fair trial and that reasonable doubt exists in my case. I had no motive for killing Eggett. He was a friend who had led me to Cantwell’s liquid methamphetamine lab. If I had wanted to kill any of them I would have killed Cantwell or Hampton, the ones who were out to get me. On the other hand, Cantwell, who is well known to have been a violent and extremely dangerous man, did have a clear motive for killing Eggett. He was furious to have lost me and he knew that Eggett had helped me steal his drugs. I believe he vented his frustration and anger by torturing and killing Eggett.
A Final Word
If you wish to read more - e.g. witnesses statements and newspaper articles which support my case and all of the above statements - I would be glad to provide them. As I said at the start, I am no saint, but I am not a murderer or a torturer. I have spent twelve years facing death for a crime I did not commit. I urgently need defense funds to establish this. Please send a donation to Lee Barnett c/o Walther, Box 102, New Lebanon, N.Y. 12125 USA.
Follow the link below to read abbreviated, but otherwise unchanged,
extracts from the sworn statements of two witnesses who testified for me
in 1993. These support my contention that Cantwell had been trying
to kill me because I had taken his crank oil, that he tortured and then
murdered Eggett and that he framed me for the murder.