In 2003, out of fear that authorities would soon discover the incest in their home, a husband and wife in Sharon, Connecticut claimed that their neighbor, seventeen-year-old Jeremy Barney, had beaten, tortured, raped, and sodomized all three of their children, as well as their family pets, over a period of several years. The parents alleged that Jeremy had tortured the children psychologically and physically — including bizarre, seemingly ritualistic attacks involving bondage, sexual prosthetics, and wine — in addition to more routine attacks with a baseball bat, knife, and shards of glass. Despite the extreme violence of the alleged assaults, the parents claimed to have been unaware of them because they occurred only when Jeremy was employed to babysit.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the State’s forensic medical examinations of the children would later refute the parents’ claims — while corroborating non-violent incestuous molestation. Further interviews with the parents and children served only to contradict each other and the known facts.
By then, however, it was too late. Social services, law enforcement, and the State’s Attorney had already committed themselves to the family’s fabrications. As frequently happens in wrongful cases, the prosecution simply refused to admit they had gotten the case all wrong. Rather than jeopardize their careers, they chose instead to send a teenager to maximum-security prison for twenty years.
It so happens that Jeremy Barney is my sister’s only son. My only nephew.
It so happens, too, that Jeremy’s case and the Barbara Gibbons / Peter Reilly case of 1973 share remarkable similarities. In addition to unfolding exactly thirty years apart, each case was investigated by the same small police department, whose detectives would botch the job by focusing on one suspect while all actual evidence pointed elsewhere. In each case, the suspect was a gentle, skinny, bespectacled white male in his senior year at Housatonic Valley Regional High School, who would be interrogated and polygraphed and badgered relentlessly in the absence of a so much as a friendly adult, let alone an attorney. And with no money to mount a proper defense, each kid would soon find himself wrongfully convicted in Litchfield Superior Court.
And in each case, most importantly, the prosecution committed gross misconduct, withholding exculpatory evidence and sacrificing the health and futures of other people — teens and children, specifically, to say nothing of justice for a murdered woman — for no reason other than protecting their own careers.
To this day, in fact — despite Peter Reilly’s exoneration by the same judge who’d convicted him, the only authority involved to admit a “grave injustice” — the official stance of the Connecticut State Police is that they caught the right
man kid in 1973. For almost fifty years now, they have refused to admit they got everything wrong. To think that they would ever admit wrongdoing in a case so “recent” as Jeremy Barney’s 2005 conviction — well, it’s simply inconceivable.