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Lawyer scolds jury; client gets death

Defense attorney chastises jury during argument

By Harriet Ryan

A jury recommended the death penalty against Justin Barber for the murder of his wife.


Court TV
Crime, Law and Justice

ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida (CourtTV) -- The jury that found Justin Barber guilty of murdering his wife during a stroll on the beach has recommended that he receive the death penalty.

The panel, which deliberated for 51 minutes, was split 8 to 4 in favor of the death penalty.

Judge Edward Hedstrom will make the ultimate sentencing decision, but under Florida law, he must give "great weight" to the recommendation of the jurors.

Instead of mounting a defense to a death sentence Monday, a lawyer for Barber chastised the jury and said the defendant had decided on principle not to allow relatives to plead for his life.

"He will not put his family through that. He will not do that in an effort to seek mercy for a crime he did not commit," defense attorney Robert Willis said during brief remarks to the jury that found the 34-year-old guilty Saturday of murdering his wife.

As the defendant looked on from the defense table, his attorney told jurors he was dumbfounded by their decision.

Attorney scolds jury

"I don't know how you got where you are," he said, shaking his head. Echoing accusations he made against police in the closing argument of the trial, Willis said, "Apparently, you have found every sinister inference there is."

The six men and six women on the jury stared back at Willis with blank expressions.

The panelists returned to the jury room Monday morning to decide whether Barber should receive death or life in prison without the possibility of parole for gunning down his wife, April, on a deserted beach in 2002. (Full coverageexternal link)

He claimed that she was killed by a mugger, who also shot him four times.

Barber's lawyer spoke for only three minutes and offered no evidence, save for a one-sentence stipulation with prosecutors that Barber had no prior criminal record.

The brevity of the case and the lack of deference to the jury's verdict are highly unusual in the penalty phase of a capital trial. Many defense attorneys in capital cases have a second lawyer devoted solely to arranging witnesses and evidence in case there is a penalty phase.

The defense has wide latitude in what they present to jurors, and it is not unusual for jurors to hear testimony from the former teachers, employers and acquaintances of the defendant in an effort to establish mitigating factors, circumstances that argue against a death sentence.

It is also common for lawyers to tell jurors that have found their client guilty of murder that they respect the verdict even if they disagree with it. Willis told jurors he was surprised by their finding.

Family won't stand up for jury

"We never expected to be here," he said.

The defendant's family, including his mother, grandmother, brother and aunt, showed their displeasure more subtly. They refused to stand when the jury filed in or out of the courtroom.

Prosecutors urged the jury to sentence Barber to death, alleging that the circumstances of the crime fit three of the aggravating factors outlined in state statute: It was committed for "pecuniary gain," it was done in a "particularly heinous, atrocious and cruel fashion," and in a manner that was "cold, calculated and premeditated."

Assistant State's Attorney Matthew Foxman told jurors, as he did during the seven-day trial, that Barber killed his wife for a $2 million insurance policy and did so after at least 11 months of plotting, which included buying the policy and searching the Internet for tips on surviving gunshot wounds.

He also cited the "near-drowning incident" in which April Barber was incapacitated before the shooting.

"She knew death was around the corner," Foxman said. "The defendant was utterly indifferent to her suffering."

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