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Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
9:47 AM Sun, Nov. 18th

Federal judge overturns Kingman man's murder conviction

A federal judge from Alaska overturned the conviction of a 39-year-old Kingman man who was tried and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a infant in 1990.

U.S.

District Judge John Sedwick overturned Johnny Lee DeBarge Sr.'s conviction in the shaking death of a 10-month-old girl who was in DeBarge's care in September 1990.

Sarah's House, the victim witness program that is part of the Mohave County Attorney's Office, was named for the girl.

The girl reportedly died while in DeBarge's care from extensive skull fractures.

DeBarge claimed she fell from a highchair.

During the trial, the prosecution relied mainly on medical experts.

Three state experts testified that the death was not accidental and that the injuries were not caused by a fall from the highchair, records show.

Sedwick's reason for overturning the conviction was that DeBarge's attorney at the time, Bill Porter, did not research the subject of injuries of a shaken infant nor did he provide medical experts on his client's behalf.

Porter could not be reached for comment Friday.

"DeBarge's counsel essentially did nothing to investigate or research the prosecution's case theory in a circumstantial murder prosecution," Sedwick wrote in his ruling.

"Had the prosecution's medical witnesses been cross-examined or had DeBarge's defense counsel located a medical expert to challenge the prosecution's experts, there is every reason to believe that the outcome could have been different."

Chief Deputy County Attorney Jace Zack, who prosecuted DeBarge in his first trial in Superior Court, will also prosecute the second trial if the 9th U.S.

Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Sedwick's ruling.

That decision is expected to take up to two months.

Zack said if DeBarge is retried, he will be returned to Mohave County and face the same charges of one count of first-degree murder and one count of child abuse, both felonies.

Another U.S.

District Court judge in Arizona will decide, possibly by next week, whether DeBarge will be released from state prison or kept in custody, Zack said.

Zack said he did not know why a federal judge in Alaska became involved in DeBarge's case.

In the first trial, a jury found DeBarge guilty in July 1991.

He was sentenced in August of that year to life in prison for the murder conviction and 22 years in prison for the child abuse charge.

Both sentences were concurrent or at the same time, records show.