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Wrongfully Convicted South Florida Man Shares Story With Students

MIRAMAR (CBS4) -- Barney Brown, a South Florida man who served 38-years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, returned to the high school Thursday he should have graduated from in 1972.

If Brown had never been incarcerated, he would have been a member of the first graduating class of Miramar High School. And that's where he returned Thursday to share his story with students.

"The state of Florida has never apologized for taking my life away, but this is better than an apology," Brown told CBS4's Joan Murray.

Brown's horrific ordeal started in 1969. The 14-year old from Carver Ranches was accused of raping a woman and robbing her husband. He always claimed his innocence but still went on trial in juvenile court. Because the victim's story was inconsistent, contradictory and she couldn't positively identify him as the suspect, Brown was acquitted.

The district attorney was undeterred. The prosecutor filed a case against Brown in adult criminal court on the same charges and Barney was eventually convicted.

It wasn't until 38-years later that Florida's 11th Judicial Circuit Court overturned his conviction due to the laws of double jeopardy which makes it unconstitutional to be tried on the same charges you've already been acquitted of.

Brown's mother, Claudette Williams, still remembers her feelings while Barney was in jail.

"I didn't think it would happen, that one day he'll be out," Claudette said.

After serving 38 long years, Brown was finally exonerated and proved his innocence. He was released from prison on September 24, 2008.

Upon his release, Brown only wanted to help others to avoid the same nightmare he lived through.

"The message is hope, educate yourself, it's empowerment," Brown said.

While in prison, Brown earned his high school diploma and a college degree. He is currently a paralegal in Miami-Dade County and works with youth programs in the county.

Brown's passion and focus is to prevent any child from going through what he experienced.

His mother and some of his 1972 classmates were in the audience at Miramar High School Thursday, and the current crop of students were moved by Brown's story.

"Everything he said today touched me," said Miramar senior Chelsea Powell, "that's a life gone."

And while Brown can never get back the time he lost in jail; the fact that he is keeping kids on the right path and helping them avoid the pain he endured is what gives him hope for the future.

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