By Jessica Clark
First Coast News
ST. AUGUSTINE, FL -- A jury has been selected in the trial of Justin Barber, a man who prosecutors say murdered his wife at the beach and then hatched a story to cover it up. Barber says he and his wife were attacked and shot.
April Barber, 27, and her husband were walking on the beach at the Guana River State Park in August 2002.
Justin Barber says a man with a gun walked up and shot them both in a robbery attempt.
April was killed. Barber survived four gunshot wounds, which investigators would later call "superficial." His attorney, Robert Willis, disagrees the wounds were superficial. In a 2004 interview with First Coast News, Willis said the gunshot wound to the hand was a classic self defense wound.
Barber drove ten miles up A1A in an effort to get help. He eventually made it to a hospital. April was found dead at the beach.
Investigators scoured the beach for a murder weapon but never found one.
Two years later authorities arrested Justin Barber on first degree murder charges.
Thursday, June 8
Justin Barber is in court for the start of his trial, as well as his family members and relatives of April Barber. Dateline and Court TV crews are there too.
Barber's hair is grown out. He is no longer bald as he was at the time of his arrest.
The first of 22 prospective jurors have filed in. Attorneys are going over several motions they filed in the case.
Nine jurors have been selected so far.
That means the court needs at least 5 more in order to seat a jury of 12 with 2 alternates.
They could possibly seat more than 2 alternates.
Prospective jurors are being asked about the death penalty.
Prosecutors are asking those potential jurors who've voiced disapproval of the death penalty to be stricken from the jury pool.
The second round of the jury pool is currently in court now.
Robert Willis, Barber's attorney, is questioning prospective jurors. The subjects range from watching CSI to experience with court trials.
Meanwhile, Barber is attentive. At one time when Willis was describing the death of April and Justin Barber's admitted affairs, Barber appeared to tear up.
Willis explained to prospective jurors that they may see photos of April with quite a bit of blood on her face.
Around 6:30 p.m. the court picked a jury made up of twelve jurors and two alternates.
Jury selection lasted for one, long day.
This trial will resume with opening statements monday morning.
Court TV Correspondent Jean Casarez says she believes the evidence will be the most challenging aspect for the defense to deal with.
She also says it's such a sad case, especially when she sees all the family for both sides seated in the courtroom.
It's anticipated the trial will last two weeks.
Monday, June 12
The courtroom is packed. Not an empty seat. Half to a third of the people are family. It appears one side will be entering evidence this morning. There are brown paper bags and a box.
Both sides just wrapped up opening statements. The first witness is about to take the stand. Lieutenant Benjamin Tanner was the first officer to find April on the beach.
The prosecution painted a picture of a man who had a handful of affairs and who had gotten into financial trouble with E-trading. State attorney Chris France says the affair with Shannon Kennedy was in progress at time of April's murder. She's expected to testify.
Defense attorney Robert Willis says motives of financial and affairs are not motives at all. Willis says Barber did not have financial problems and said he was on the road to a bright future. He says some of the women Barber was with were one-night stands and that he did not want a long term relationship with Shannon Kennedy. He went into detail into how the attack occurred and the expert witnesses that will testify. Willis sketched a shirt and pants on large white paper to show blood spots. Willis says the body and evidence were contaminated because both were left for longer than a day in a body bag.
Lieutenant Benjamin Tanner of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office was the first witness in the trial. He was the first person to find April’s body.
Tanner says he checked for a pulse and did not find one. He remained in a tactical mode for a while because he did not know if the suspected robber and shooter was still on the scene. He said he did not see any other people or cars around.
Tanner viewed photographs of April’s body the state displayed in the courtroom.
He said he did not see any blood on April’s body. He said he saw a frothy substance around April’s hair and that it had a red tint to it. He believed that tint came from blood.
John Holmquist with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement took the stand. He’s a crime scene investigator.
Holmquist explained what he saw on the scene. The state brought out photos of April’s body, photos of the vehicle Justin drove to find help, and a video tape of the crime scene. It showed the boardwalk that extends from A1A to the beach, April’s body at the bottom of the boardwalk, and the marks in the sand that were made when Justin dragged April’s body from the water to the boardwalk. Holmquist was questioned about various pieces of evidence.
Holmquist also un-boxed and un-bagged Justin’s bloody shirt and April’s bloody blouse before the jury.
Defense attorney Robert Willis questioned Holmquist about the autopsy being delayed until Monday. When asked why that happened, Holmquist said that’s a decision a doctor makes.
Tuesday, June 13
Detective Howard Cole, an investigator in the case since the beginning, is on the stand.
Defense Attorney Robert Willis has asked to play the audio tape of the interview Cole did with Barber in the hospital right after April's death. It's mostly inaudible, very hard to understand.
While it played, Justin cried, clenched his teeth, and wiped away tears with a tissue.
Defense attorney Robert Willis cross examined Det. Howard Cole. An active volley between the two transpired. Willlis questioned Cole about not spending much time investigating other cars that witnesses saw parked at the Guana River State Park the night of the shooting.
Detective Cole said the evidence led them in a different direction.
At one time, Cole explained something as "his understanding." Willis said, "You better check your understanding."
The jury saw and heard from a string of prosecution witnesses Tuesday afternoon.
The first was Shannon Kennedy.
She was dating Barber at the time of the shooting. She says she did not initially know he was married.
She works for Enterprise Car rental inside the Omni Hotel in Jacksonville. The company he worked for, Rayonier, rented cars from Enterprise. That's how the two met.
Kennedy said when she learned Justin was married, "He said he loved [April], he just couldn't live with her. "
A financial expert hired by the state testified, so did various insurance agents, and some Rayonier employees.
Wednesday, June 14
[Updated at 9:29 a.m.]
An FDLE computer forensic examiner is on the stand. Chris Hendry is talking about the web searches he found on Justin Barber's computer.
One of those songs included "I used to love her" by Guns N' Roses. The jury listened to the song and saw the lyrics written out on a display board.
The signature line of the song:
"I used to love her but I had to kill her"
Barber's attorney sort or smiled while it played and even bounced his head to the beat.
The song was downloaded the day April was shot. It and other songs were deleted later.
This is one of more than 1600 songs on Barber's personal computer.
Later Wednesday morning, Justin Barber's three hour long videotaped deposition played for jurors. It was taken in October 2003, a little over a year after the shooting.
The beginning of the deposition revealed details about his schooling, hobbies, sports interests, and how he and April met at the University of Oklahoma.
Barber was also questioned about the sexual relationships he had with other women while he was married. He says April did not know about them. Four or five affairs/sexual encounters were counted in the deposition. Some were one night stands. One he did not remember the woman's name.
Thursday, June 15
[Updated at 10:45 a.m.]
The medical examiner is testifying. He says a photo taken of April at the scene shows a foamy substance found close to her face. He says that's usually indicative of a person who died in the water. He says you'll see that substance in 2 out of 3 drownings, especially involving salt water.
He says due to blood flowing on the left side of her face only, that she was shot in the location of where she lay.
Thursday, June 15
[Updated at 8:23 p.m.]
To the prosecution, Medical Examiner Terrence Steiner indicated the foam found by April’s lower cheek and hair was foam that you find on a person who has died in the water. He said you’d find that foam two out of three times when there’s a drowning.
When pressed about the cause of death, Steiner said it was ultimately the gunshot to April’s cheek.
Steiner believes that April was shot by the boardwalk where she was found due to the blood that was only found on her one cheek. This belief does not correlate with Justin’s story about how he found April floating in the water with a hole in her cheek and then dragged her to the boardwalk where he left her.
Dr. Joseph Tepas took the stand next. He’s the hospital surgeon that cared for Justin the night of the shooting. Tepas said Justin was not bleeding to death, was awake, alert, and able to communicate. He said Justin did not appear to be at risk of any eminent demise.
Tepas found five wounds on Justin. One gunshot wound just below his right nipple, one to his right shoulder near his neck, one to his left shoulder, an entry wound on his left hand, and an exit wound to that same hand.
Justin came into the hospital just after midnight on Aug. 18th and was released Aug. 19th.
Tepas said you cannot predict the direction the bullet will go once it enters the body because it could ricochet off various kinds of tissues.
Jerry Findley took the stand in the afternoon on Thursday. He has Findley Consulting Firm. He works death scene reconstruction and blood stain pattern analysis.
Findley says he found a handful of inconsistencies between Justin’s story and the evidence he studied.
He said the blood flow onApril’s left cheek does not match up with Justin’s story of trying to pick her up in various ways. He said if the body hand been moved that many items, then the head would have changed positions and the blood flow would have changed positions. Crime scene photos show blood only streaming down April’s left cheek.
First Coast News