ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- Justin Barber, the man convicted of murdering his wife on a First Coast beach, said he believes he has grounds for a new trial.
A hearing to address this motion is scheduled for Friday.
Barber and his wife, April, were shot on the beach at Guana River State Park near Ponte Vedra. Barber was wounded; his wife killed.
Barber said a man attacked them, however prosecutors argued that Barber's goal was to kill his wife, but that he shot himself as well to make it look like an attack. In the summer of 2006, a jury found Barber guilty of murder and a judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
According to court documents filed in October 2010, Barber claims the verdict should be thrown out and he should get a new trial, citing ineffective counsel.
First, Barber said there was a possible plea deal and that he would have taken it. He did not take the deal when his attorney - Robert Willis -- told him they'd win if the case went to trial, he said.
Defense attorney Janet Johnson followed the trial closely in 2006. While she was not directly connected with the case, she provided some insight today.
On the plea deal, Johnson said, "That seems very unlikely."
"Most attorneys -- and these are excellent attorneys -- aren't going to say to someone facing the death penalty, "'It's a lock! There's no way you're going to lose.'"
In the motion, Barber also claimed his attorneys did not use some crime scene photos which could have helped his case.
Pretrial publicity also hurt his case, he said.
In addition, Barber said his attorneys did not pursue the story of another man who could have been real the suspect.
However, Johnson said that may have been the defense attorneys' strategy. "A court is very unlikely to second guess and say, 'If you have done this, the outcome would've been different.'"
The guilty verdict was a shocker - and not just for Barber's attorneys, said Johnson.
"I talked to even prosecutors who said 'we were surprised by the verdict.' The judge was surprised," Johnson said. "It was contrary to what people expected. So if he got a new trial, he might have a much better result."
Blaming attorneys is a common tactic for convicted felons seeking a new trial, she said.
"Hearing from these attorneys around the time of the trial," Johnson said, "they thought he was innocent, and they wanted him to walk out of prison."
Barber has appealed the verdict before and those appeals were denied. This motion is another route to get a new trial, and often those convicted of crimes will file a motion like the one Barber has filed.
A hearing is set for July 29. Barber's former attorney - Bob Willis -- and his new attorney did not want to comment for this story.
First Coast News