Jury: Man Who Killed Wife Should Be Executed

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The St. Johns County jury that on Saturday convicted Justin Barber of first-degree murder in the shooting death of his wife returned to the courtroom Monday morning and recommended he be put to death for the crime.

After less than one hour of deliberation, the jury returned an 8-4 recommendation that Barber be executed.

Barber, 34, maintained that someone who attacked him and his wife on Guana River State Park on Aug. 17, 2002, shot his wife, April. 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.

Monday morning, the jury heard two, short victim's impact statements. One from April Barber's best friend brought tears to Barber's eyes.

"We carry an indescribable pain," Amber Mitchell said. "How is it that anyone could choose to murder her? Did she know? Did she suffer? We will be haunted by those questions all our lives."

The testimony was followed by brief arguments from both the prosecution and defense.

"I can't say 'Good morning' because it's not a good morning," Barber's attorney, Bob Willis, told the jury. "We didn't expect to be here."

Willis did not call any witnesses during the sentencing hearing, saying Barber did not wish for any of his family to testify.

"Mr. Barber told us yesterday and as recently as this morning not to put his family through that," Willis said. "He will not do that in an effort to seek mercy to a crime he did not commit."

In what court observers said appeared to be a statement of contempt for the jury that found Barber guilty, some of his family refused to stand up when the jury left the room Monday morning.

After the judge read instructions to the jury, deliberations began about 11 a.m. Their decision was read in open court shortly after noon.

Like Saturday, when the guilty verdict was read, Barber did not flinch when the jury recommended he should be put to death.

"We're very pleased with the verdict; we're very proud of the jurors, who worked very hard to come to this decision," prosecutor Chris France said after the sentencing decision.

Willis said he was shocked, more by the verdict than the decision to execute Barber, saying the prosecution's account of the killing didn't fit the evidence.

"I don't understand it; I never will," Willis told Channel 4's Victoria Warren.

Unlike the decision for conviction, the jury's advisory sentence on whether Barber should be executed did not need to be unanimous.

While Judge Edward Hedstrom will impose a sentence over the next few weeks, State Attorney Harry Shorstein said the judge almost always follows the jury recommendation.

Under Florida law, all death penalty cases are automatically appealed.

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