BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The failure of a Los Angeles man to drive the speed limit ultimately led to an investigation resulting in two murder convictions after a dead body was found in his vehicle.
Adam Barness caught the attention of a California Highway Patrol officer when he sped along Highway 65 in January 2018. The officer spoke with Barness and a backseat passenger, but the man seated in the front passenger seat had his eyes shut and didn’t move a muscle.
The officer eventually came to a startling realization: The man was dead, and had been propped up to make it appear he was asleep.
The scenario bore similarities to the 1989 film “Weekend at Bernie’s,” where two young men pass off their wealthy boss, who has died from a heroin overdose, as alive in order to continue partying at the boss’s mansion.
On Wednesday, Barness, 33, and Manpreet Sidhu, 42, were sentenced to 25 years to life following their convictions on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy.
The motive remains unknown, prosecutor Gina Pearl said afterward, but Barness was listed as a beneficiary on the victim’s life insurance policy. Sidhu worked for Barness collecting drugs and weapons in Los Angeles County and was brought in to assist with the killing, she said.
“We don’t know exactly where the homicide occurred,” Pearl said.
The attorney for Sidhu said his client was coerced into participating in the killing because of his fear of Barness.
“We hoped that the jury would find that even though duress is not a defense to homicide, it can mitigate it down to something less,” Greg Mitts said.
Barness’ Los Angeles-based attorney, Alan Baum, said he argued at trial the victim was alive when the men left Los Angeles. For reasons never explained, Sidhu strangled the other man shortly before they were pulled over, Baum said.
The custodian of records testified there was no evidence Barness knew he was a beneficiary of the victim, Baum said.
“In my opinion, it’s not a motive since he didn’t even know he was a beneficiary,” the attorney said.
The sentencing brings an end a nearly three-year case that at one point landed Barness’ brother in jail in a case of mistaken identity.
On Jan. 16, 2018, a CHP officer pulled over a speeding GMC Yukon near Highway 65 and James Road. The officer called for backup upon realizing 49-year-old Evmir Miraflores Evangelista was dead.
There was “substantial trauma” to Miraflores’ neck, and an autopsy confirmed he had been strangled, prosecutors said.
Barness and Sidhu were detained while officers searched the SUV. They found gloves, metal wire, a large shovel and a can of gas.
Sidhu told sheriff’s investigators Barness picked him up in Los Angeles early that morning to visit his parents in Bakersfield. He said he didn’t know Evangelista, and believed he was asleep, possibly passed out from drug use.
Barness used his brother’s name — Ben Barness — when he and Sidhu were arrested. Prosecutors initially declined to file murder charges and sent the case back for more investigation.
Sidhu and Barness were released.
Six months later, detectives rearrested Sidhu and also took Ben Barness into custody based on the name they’d been given in January. He was released after fingerprint analysis determined he was was not the man who had previously been in custody.
Adam Barness was rearrested and pleaded no contest in 2019 to falsely impersonating his brother. He has remained in custody since, and he and Sidhu were found guilty last month.