Judge Spares Convicted Killer's Life

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A judge has sentenced a man convicted of killing his wife at a beachfront state park to life in prison, rather than the death penalty recommended by the jury.

Judge Edward Hedstrom on Friday morning sentenced Justin Barber, 34, to life in prison without parole for the 2002 murder. Following Barber's conviction in June, the jury returned an 8-4 recommendation that he be executed.

"Having concluded that this murder is not the most aggravated and unmitigated of crimes for which the death penalty is reserved, it is therefore the ruling of this court that you, Justin Mertis Barber, be committed to the Department of Corrections, where you serve a sentence of life in imprisonment without the possibility of parole," Hedstrom said.

Hedstrom also implied that the Florida Supreme Court would likely overturn a death sentence.

Barber, 34, maintained that someone attacked him and his wife, April, at Guana River State Park on Aug. 17, 2002. Prosecutors said Barber deliberately killed his wife in order to collect on a $2 million life insurance policy.

Despite the fact that Justin Barber also had four gunshot wounds, the jury didn't buy his defense and found him guilty after 33 hours of deliberations over four days.

"Today doesn't matter. We're going to start our appeal today," Linda Barber said after the judge announced the sentence of her son. "What the judge said, Justin said it's the same to him -- life or death, it's the same."

The victim's family said they were pleased with the sentence and and happy that justice was finally done.

"It's been a long four years, and there were many times that we wondered if the case would ever be presented to a grand jury, much less be taken to trial," April Barber's aunt, Patti Parrish, said Friday. "We know there'll be an appeal, but at least there is closure to the trial aspect of it."

Under Florida law, if Barber's conviction is overturned, the prosecution cannot seek the death penalty in a new trial.

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