2011-02-03 / Front Page

Deputies release Oak Park murder suspect

23-year-old set free after no charges are filed
By Michelle Knight

Bikram Otal Bikram Otal A 23-year-old Oak Park man is out of jail and back at home after spending the weekend in custody on suspicion of murder.

Bikram Otal was released from Ventura County Main Jail on Monday after prosecutors decided not to file charges against him in the death of Donald Barnes, Jr., 41, also from Oak Park. Officials said there was evidence that Otal acted in self-defense.

“We do not see proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime of murder or manslaughter,” said Bill Haney, senior deputy district attorney. “This is a more complicated case than it appears in terms of the conduct of both parties.”

Otal was arrested Thurs., Jan. 27 after Ventura County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call about a fight. They found Barnes bleeding to death on an Oak Park sidewalk, the victim of multiple stab wounds.

Police said Otal became involved in an altercation with Barnes next to Lindero Canyon Road near Bowfield Street around 10 p.m. The sidewalk is next to a block wall that separates Lindero Canyon from an Oak Park apartment complex.

Barnes was in an apartment and yelled at Otal and his girlfriend, who were walking on the sidewalk, to shut up, said Otal’s lawyer Donald Stricklin of Encino. Otal responded to a Barnes obscenity and Barnes jumped over the wall and “blindsided” Otal in an attack, Stricklin said. Otal’s girlfriend called 911.

Stricklin said Barnes had a height and weight advantage over Otal and that Otal was forced to defend himself.

“ It’s self- defense,” stated Stricklin, saying Otal is not a murderer but a victim of assault.

“He was going to be killed by the actions of Mr. Barnes and that’s how . . . he knew he had to defend himself and did so to the best of his abilities given the circumstances,” the attorney said.

Barnes, the father of a son and daughter, was declared dead at the scene, according to James Baroni, chief deputy medical examiner.

Neither Baroni nor police would say how many stab wounds Barnes sustained. Ventura County Sheriff Capt. Mike Aranda said Barnes suffered the wounds to his back and front torso.

Otal was taken to Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center for treatment of the injuries he received and was then transferred to jail where he was held on $500,000 bail.

Otal, a student at UC Santa Barbara and a local bicycle mechanic, appeared in court Monday, but was released when the district attorney’s office said it wasn’t filing charges.

Haney said his department sent the case back to the sheriff’s department for further investiga- tion. More information needs to be gathered to determine whether an “unjustifiable killing” did or did not occur, Haney said.

Aranda said it’s not uncommon for the district attorney’s office to ask investigators to collect more evidence.

“It’s a collaboration between both of us,” Aranda said of the investigation.

Haney would not comment further, citing the need for confidentiality in an ongoing investigation.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Ventura County Major Crimes Division at (805) 477- 7000.

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