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Lott family
April and Justin Barber
NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Dennis Murphy Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/8/2006 8:16:17 PM ET 2006-09-09T00:16:17

All the ingredients were in place for a young couple’s romantic late-night beach walk: holding hands, barefoot in the moonlight, the luring soundtrack of waves rolling to the shoreline...

That’s how it started as Justin Barber recalled the evening in 2002 — a special stroll on a north Florida beach after an anniversary dinner with April, his wife of three years.

Justin Barber: We took off our shoes and left them at the foot of the boardwalk.

Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: Walking hand in hand?

Barber: Yes.

Murphy: Kicking your feet in the water?

Barber: Yes.

But a beach walk on a humid night in the off-season, on a desolate stretch of sand, can also make a young couple a little jittery, the crashing waves sounding more primitive than soothing, feeling all too vulnerable to the forces of the night.

That was the unwelcome tingle the instant before the anniversary walk ended so violently.

A passing motorist made the call to 911. Justin was found slumped behind the wheel of his SUV on a coastal highway near the shore.  He was dazed and bleeding—he said he and his wife had been attacked by an unknown assailant and it got worse.

As authorities searched the beach for the injured wife, 27-year-old April Barber, her 30-year-old husband Justin was choppered to a trauma center in nearby Jacksonville.

Now seasoned lawmen like Sheriff’s Detective Skip Cole know all too well that Saturday nights can end in gunplay and ruin a perfectly nice weekend.  The phone rang late at night and the dispatcher asked him to got to the emergency room to get a statement from a male gunshot victim. To him, it was just another day at the office.

Det. Skip Cole: He’s sitting in a hospital bed. He’s upright. He doesn’t have a shirt on. He’s conscious, he’s alert.

Murphy: Could you tell right away he’d been a gunshot victim?

Det. Cole: Sure. He had four wounds.  He had one on his left shoulder that appeared to kind of be going out and away.  He had another one on his right shoulder kind of like on a muscle that you shrug your shoulders.  That kind of was on an angle kind of out and away.  He had another wound right here on the right chest that almost appeared like a grazing wound.  And then he had another wound in the center of his left hand which exited out the back of the hand.

Murphy:  You think you have a robbery attempt here?

Det. Cole:  That’s what he’s reporting, yes.

A botched robbery turned fatal? Back at the beach, paramedics were not able to revive Justin’s wife April. She’d been found crumpled at the foot of the boardwalk, a single gunshot to her left cheek.  Justin Barber was released from the hospital a day later.

And the next week, he was back out on the beach with Detective Cole to walk him through the story he would tell again and again: exactly what happened that awful night.

Justin said at beach, he and April had kicked off their shoes at the end of the boardwalk and meandered hand-in-hand along the water’s edge.

Justin Barber:  We were walking along, and I was looking down, watching the waves come in over feet and I felt April tense up. And I looked up and a man was approaching us, very quickly.  And he was not too far away.

Murphy:  Wearing a cap, you thought?

Justin Barber:  Yes.  Yes.

Murphy:  Brandishing a pistol, obviously?  Or-

Justin Barber:  Yes.

Murphy:  So, this is all happening in slow-speed, nightmare time?

Justin Barber:  No, it was happening fast.

Det. Cole: [Justin Barber said] the man was holding up his hand, seemed agitated and demanded cash. 

Justin told Detective Cole that he remembered hearing a shot and then struggling for the weapon.  He said he passed out briefly, and when he “came to” he ran up and down the beach looking for April.

Det. Cole: He ended up finding her in the surf.  Floating, face down. 

He tried to drag her about 100 yards up the beach, but felt something was wrong with his body—he didn’t realize yet he’d been shot. He got April only as far as the foot of the boardwalk.

Det. Cole: He said once he put her on this rail and she fell down, he couldn’t pick her up and he couldn’t take her any further.  So at that point he elected to leave and go get help.

For days police scoured the beach and scrub for clues—using metal detectors, helicopters.  Would they find the assailant’s gun?  Some trace of him?  But they came up empty.

And the vague details Justin Barber gave detectives about the man he’d grappled with on that dark beach didn’t yield much either.

Murphy: Is he giving you a description that’s useful at all?

Det. Cole: The sum total of that description was, “He’s a little taller than me.  He’s a little heavier than me.  He had on a baggy shirt and a ball cap.  I couldn’t see his face.  He was very tanned and had pale hands.”

Murphy:  So you’ve limited it to a population of about 800,000 suspects in the greater Jacksonville area, huh?

Det. Cole:  It wasn’t something that I thought would net any positive results, that’s for sure.

Murphy:  So this is a tough case?

Det. Cole:  Sure.

Murphy:  You got a guy that came out of the night, killed somebody, wounded another, and then disappeared?

Det. Cole: Like a phantom in the night.

Detective Cole may have been short of hard evidence but not patience. Making sense of what had happened on that beach he’d surfed off of as a teenager would consume him for the next four years. Though he didn’t know that back in August 2002.

He was still trying to understand why a robber would murder and then not take anything... kill a woman and only wound a man.

The detective would have to take his case back to the Barbers’ home state of Oklahoma to figure out just who Justin and April were.

To try to figure out why, he would later learn, Justin Barber lied right to his face.

They were country kids, the both of them.  April was from Hennessey, Oklahoma, population 2,000, a pretty young woman whose smile and easy good cheer masked some truly difficult years.

And Justin who grew up a few hours away on his family’s 120-acre spread near tiny Dustin where he rode horses, mowed the hay and worked stocking shelves at a local grocery with his older brother Charlie, now a U.S. Naval officer.

Charlie Barber: We both grew up with loving family.  A big loving family. We lived so far out of town we didn’t have neighbors.  So we grew up close.

Justin was polite, solitary, raised Pentecostal Christian.

He was such an A student, he graduated valedictorian of his high school class, went on to Oklahoma University, tried his hand as a financial analyst and then went back to school to pursue a business degree.

Amber Mitchell, April's best friend: He was bright, ambitious.

Amber Mitchell, a fellow student in the MBA program, remembers thinking there was a lot to like about Justin. 

Mitchell: He talked heavily of Christian values and the importance of family.  I thought he was a great guy.

Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: So you thought he’d be a good catch for a friend.

Mitchell: Sure.  Absolutely.

In 1998, Amber introduced Justin to her girlfriend, the striking April Lott, from Hennessey.  April had been her high school salutatorian, all state-scholar and voted most likely to succeed. 

April’s aunt, Patti Parrish, recalls a pretty girl who stole everyone’s hearts—a child unusually close to her mother, Nancy, Patti’s sister.

Patti Parrish, April’s aunt: When April was little, Nancy used to put her in beauty pageants. She always had tow white hair.  That was one thing about April.  She always had great hair.  (laughter)  And Nancy would do all of these different things.  And buy these fancy dresses for her. 

A girly-girl who knew how to be country, too.

Patti Parrish: Her dad loved to hunt.  And it always amazed me when April would eat some of the stuff that (laughter) her father—like squirrel—would hunt.  But she had a very good, very happy childhood.

But clouds happen in life and the one that enveloped April in 1993 was life-changing. That was the year her mother died of cancer.  Her father, an oil field worker, was often absent. That left April—just 17 years old—to run the household and act as surrogate mother to her younger sister and brother, Julie and Kendon.

During college, April decided on a career in radiation therapy, intent on devoting herself to others—like her mom, who’d been stricken with cancer.  As April finished her training, her boyfriend Justin Barber signed on to an elite management training program with a Fortune 500 firm.  It was a match of two bright motivated people that made sense.

Justin Barber: I was drawn to her immediately. There was a deep sadness in her that was somewhat obvious.  But she hid it.  And when she smiled, she lit up the room.

Justin’s mother, Linda, knew things were getting serious when he brought April home to Meet the Barbers.

Linda Barber, Justin’s mother: She met the whole family.  So she really had a big dose of us that day.  (laughter)

Murphy: How did she do?  What’d everybody think of her?

Linda Barber: Oh, she was very poised.  And she was wonderful.

Murphy: What did she and Justin see in one another?

Linda Barber:  He liked her sense of family. And she always told him that he was the smartest person she ever knew.  You know, she just was crazy about him.

In August 1999, 10 months after meeting, April and Justin married in a small ceremony in the Bahamas.

Now three years later, a marriage begun on one beach had ended on another—the wife dead of a single gunshot wound to the face from a small caliber weapon.

And what Detective Cole was starting to learn about April and Justin’s lives together— and apart— after the honeymoon made his nose twitch.

Murphy: This marriage is on the rocks?

Det. Cole: Definitely not what he represented to us.

Down at the sheriff’s office, Justin had told Det. Cole his marriage was happy and normal... but the investigator soon learned that Justin and April’s newly-minted union was under strain from the start—when just a month after exchanging vows, the couple moved her siblings in to live with them.  April’s kid sister, Julie. 

Julie Lott:  It was very hard for her to take me and my little brother in and be a motherly figure instead of our friend and our sister too.

Worse, April and Justin were fighting over how to discipline the kids.  Conflicts in the home soon escalated into screaming matches. By late 2000, Julie and Kendon moved out to live with relatives.

But if April and Justin were hoping for some time alone, they didn’t get it. Soon after the kids’ departure, Justin was transferred to Florida for his job.  He moved—by himself—to Jacksonville, a three-hour drive away from April, who’d taken a new job in Georgia.  By early August 2002, April’s best friend Amber was hearing all about her friend’s suspicion that Justin was cheating on her.

Mitchell: She had just discovered that Justin was playing tennis with a girl that he met at a rental car place.  And April firmly believed that that was an affair and had already confronted him about it earlier that week.

Murphy:  And how did he answer?

Mitchell: He denied it.

And now Amber Mitchell told Detective Cole in a sworn affidavit that on the couple’s third anniversary, August 4th, 2002, April told Justin she was leaving him.

Det. Cole:   The very next time she sees him is August 16th.

Murphy: That’s the Friday she comes down for the weekend visit.

Det. Cole: The 17th she’s killed.

And there was something else the detective found suspicious: an insurance policy uncovered during a search of Justin Barber’s Jacksonville apartment.

Murphy: What’d you find in the insurance policy?

Det. Cole: It was $2 million.

Murphy: On her?

Det. Cole: On her. That’s a potential motive.

As the first weeks of the investigation turned to months, Justin stood firmly by his account and largely cooperated with police. 

Murphy: You have some very dark suspicions about Justin Barber, but you’re not cracking him?

Det. Cole: Nah.

Murphy: And you’re not getting the evidentiary material you need against him.

Det. Cole: Not initially, no.

Two years went by with no criminal charges filed. Then, finally, some new blood work came back from the lab.

And what’s more, a tenacious forensic computer specialist had recovered an old Internet search on Justin’s computer.

Det. Cole: We got a lot of results that were very interesting in the context of this investigation.

They were the missing pieces of the case file that the prosecutor’s office felt it needed. 

On July 9, 2004: Justin Barber was charged with the first-degree murder of his wife April and the state was going for the death penalty.

What happened on this remote Florida beach?

Did it happen the way Justin Barber described it to police—a husband and wife attacked in the dark with her dead and him wounded? 

Or, as improbable as it sounds, did Justin Barber place one kill-shot to his pretty wife April’s face and then turn the gun on himself, putting four bullet wounds in his body? 

Justin Barber or an unknown assailant?

A jury of twelve would decide who killed April Barber.

If convicted, the husband could face the death penalty.

Prosecutor: Those hands you see resting on the table took a .22 caliber pistol, pointed it right at his wife’s face, and pulled the trigger. 

The St. Augustine, Florida, courtroom was packed with family and friends. Divided. Justin’s people on one side, April’s on the other.  Two extended families who’d once shared birthdays and holidays together were separated by ten feet of aisle that may as well have been an ocean for the abyss between them.

Patti Parrish, April's aunt:  It was very difficult to look at Justin.  And it was more difficult to watch his mother and grandmother. 

A wrenching pain that was felt across the aisle by the Barber family who genuinely grieved for their daughter-in-law.

Charlie Barber, Justin's brother:  She was kind of like the daughter mom never had.  Her and April were close.  That’s what’s made this kind of hard too.  I think sometimes people forget that we lost April too.

But now the prosecution was saying that April had been murdered by none other than the Barber family’s beloved brother, son, and grandson.

Justin Barber, according to the state, was a philanderer who wanted out of his failing marriage.

Remember that tennis partner of Justin’s whom April Barber was suspicious of?

Prosecutors brought her to the stand to tell the story of how she and Justin met in the summer of 2002, just weeks before April Barber was killed. 

Prosecutor: At some point did this become a sexual relationship?

Shannon Kennedy: Yes.

And Shannon Kennedy wasn’t Justin’s only extramarital partner. There’d been others before—four of them— which he’d admitted to in a videotaped deposition before his trial began. 

Attorney: Did you have a sexual relationship with another woman in Georgia while you were married to April Barber?

Justin Barber: yes.

Attorney: And did you have sexual relations with a woman in New Zealand?

Justin Barber: Yes.

Attorney: Are there any other women that you had sexual activity with?

Justin Barber: Yes.

Attorney: I assume every one of these women was kept secret from April Barber.

Barber: Yes.

Five flings in the space of his three-year marriage to April.  And his wife was finally catching on, according to friends.

So why not simply get a divorce? That was the other part of the prosecution’s theory of motive. Justin Barber wanted the insurance money that would be paid to him as beneficiary upon April’s death. Justin was drowning in debt according to the prosecutors. He’d done some disastrous day-trading online and was $58,000 in the hole, much of it from bum stock picks.

The Barbers’ life insurance agent testified that Justin came into his office alone to buy the coverage eleven months before his wife’s murder.

Insurance agent:  We put $2 million on him, applied for $2 million on his life and I believe the same amount on his wife’s life.

A $2 million pay-out would get him out of his financial bind handsomely—there’d be plenty of play-around money for cars and girlfriends. The prosecution said it added up to a motive for not just murder, a crime of passion, but premeditated murder going back many months  — a story confirmed, argued the prosecutors, by what a forensic computer analyst found embedded inside Justin’s laptop from work.

On Valentine’s Day 2002, six months before the murder, Justin Barber asked Google a question.

Computer expert: It was a Google search in which the key words “trauma” “cases” “gunshot” “right” and “chest” were the searches that were used.

The prosecution reminded the jurors about the precise location of one of Justin’s wounds—and told them it couldn’t be a coincidence. 

Prosecution: What are the odds of somebody researching, “gunshot wound to the right chest”, getting a gunshot wound to the right chest six months later?  Those odds just don’t exist.

So far the prosecution’s case was mostly circumstantial but Justin barber was being tried for murder one, not adultery. To get a conviction the prosecution would have to describe the couple’s beach walk with a completely different ending than the one told by Justin—an ending without a ball-capped assailant, but only a treacherous husband with a .22 in his hand.  It would be the foundation of the case against him.

First the state’s forensic expert described the nine different ways Justin said he’d attempted to carry or drag April up the beach—by the arms, over his shoulder, by the pants ...

And then the prosecutors unveiled one of the most important pieces of evidence in the trial: a crucial crime scene photo of April’s face.  The photo itself was too graphic to show on television.

Expert: If the body had been moved that many times, the head would have changed positions, at which time the blood flow would have changed positions.  The blood flow on her face is coming straight down. It’s consistent with her head going back, hitting the sand and staying in that same position. 

Prosecutor: Is it your opinion, sir, that Ms. Barber was, in fact, shot up by the boardwalk?

Expert: When she fell, and the blood started was right there, she didn’t move.

And that same crime scene photo showed something else: white foam pooled below April’s nose and mouth which the medical examiner testified is usually the result of someone inhaling salt water around the time of death.

Prosecutor: Is it your testimony that April Barber was drowned?

Medical examiner: She suffered a near drowning episode.

With those two details of forensics in evidence—the blood flowing in a single direction and the white foam—the prosecution was ready to tell the jury what really happened out here on the beach that night.  Justin, the theory went, first tried to drown his wife down at the water’s edge. Then he dragged her probably unconscious back to the foot of this boardwalk and shot her once in the face—yielding that gruesome image of gravity carrying her blood into the sand.

And Justin’s story about a romantic seashore walk that went horribly awry?  The prosecution said his tale had no more substance than the ball-capped man he’d claimed assaulted them on the beach that night. 

Foxman (prosecution lawyer): There is no evidence of a third party anywhere on that beach. The phantom does not exist.

But the defense was about to put on its case and tell the jury about a lead it said was buried by a police force too eager to peg Justin Barber as the sole suspect. 

Bob Willis, defense attorney: There never was that smoking gun.  There never was that thing that we couldn’t overcome.  And, in fact, on the contrary, the case just got better as we saw it develop.

Jacksonville defense attorney Bob Willis has argued a lot of cases. But his confidence in his client Justin Barber’s innocence was singular.

Willis:  I never had a doubt about him from day one.  There’s not been a single moment when I had a question about him.

Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: So, you believe it happened just as he said.  That he went for a hand in hand walk with his wife on a delayed anniversary weekend.  And the man came out of the dark and killed her and wounded him.

Willis: Yeah.

Now the defense had its chance to turn the prosecution’s story of a treacherous and diabolical husband on its head. 

Willis: This is a purely circumstantial evidence case.  There is no evidence that he fired a gun that evening.  None whatsoever. There is literally no evidence  to suggest or support the idea that he shot himself.  Shot himself four times.

Defense attorney Willis started by telling the jury about a tantalizing lead he said the sheriff’s office never properly followed up on:

Willis: There was a clue in the form of a K-car, that was an automobile that was seen down there on the beach that night that they almost wholly ignored. 

Two eyewitnesses, a Tennessee couple, took the stand and told the jury that as they drove up the dark coastal highway that night, they distinctly remembered spotting a Chrysler-make sedan parked near the SUV that would turn out to be Justin’s.

Kimberly Pryor:  It was an older model car.  Kind of a square looking car.  Not a newer one.

Jason Pryor: It was a small vehicle.  Dodge.  We call it K-cars. 

That K-car could have been the beach assailant’s, according to Willis — a critical clue he says the cops shoved under the rug because they were hell-bent on pursuing only one suspect: Justin Barber. 

Willis: Within hours, if not a day of the time Mrs. Barber died, they decided that Justin Barber was guilty of this, and they were not gonna be deterred by any evidence that showed up.

Worse, he said, was that police drew sinister inferences where there were none.  Like that $2 million dollar policy insuring April’s life?  The defense’s insurance expert testified the policy was straightforward, all above boards.  April herself knew all its details.      

Defense attorney: Who owned that policy?

Mr. Halloran, defense insurance expert: Mrs. Barber did.

Willis: And what does that mean?

Halloran: That means that she had full control over the policy.  Nobody could make any changes on that policy.

Not to mention that Justin didn’t need the insurance money, according to Willis—his debt was a minor setback for such an upwardly mobile young man, and he’d been paying it off in stride.

Willis: He makes $105,000 a year at the age of 30.  His future is so bright, you can’t look at it. I’m telling you, he was on the fast track to senior management at a Fortune 500 company. Is there any evidence of insolvency?  No.  Was he ever delinquent on any debt?  No.

But the prosecution had argued that Justin Barber wasn’t compelled to kill his wife because of financial motives alone—he wanted freedom from his marriage as well. 

Murphy: Motivation, part two.  This is a guy with hot pants.  Five girlfriends, affairs, less than three years of marriage. They implied there are hot and cold-running women in Justin Barber’s life.

Willis: Yeah, he’s a guy that you know and I know.  Everybody in this room knows him, and that doesn’t make him a killer.

As for that Google search “trauma cases gunshot right chest” ... that one found on Justin’s hard drive that signaled pre-meditation according to the prosecution?  The defense grilled the state’s forensic computer analyst to show that the computer search had been hand-picked by detectives out of thousands of innocent queries.

Willis:  So out of 2,200, we have these three or four that are here in the courtroom this morning?

Mr. Hendry, state computer analyst:  Correct.

Now it was the defense’s turn to tackle head-on its version of what happened out here that night.  The defense would argue that the prosecution’s story that Justin first tried to  drown his wife—then dragged her up to the boardwalk, shot her once, shot himself four times—just didn’t add up.

For one, why would Justin try to drown April and only then drag her to the boardwalk to shoot her? 

Willis: If she were in the water and he had, in fact, held her to the point where she was unconscious, why not just finish the job?  I mean, why get involved in all the rest of this scenario?  That made no sense.

And why wouldn’t Justin take something—April’s wedding ring, some cash—to corroborate his story?

Willis: I mean, if I’m this premeditated guy who’s been on the Internet for six months planning this, I’m gonna take something.  I’m gonna make it look like a robbery.  I’m not gonna leave a loose end like that.  That’s crazy.

Then the defense’s own veteran medical examiner took the stand to testify that Justin was lucky he hadn’t died from his injuries.  The one to his left shoulder had fractured a bone ... as for the other shoulder?

Medical examiner: It is a wound that is very near a very large artery. That is also close to vital organs and tissues.

Willis: What would be the result if this artery was penetrated or perforated?

Medical examiner: Extensive hemorrhage.

Willis: And possibly death?

Medical examiner: Possibly, yes.

Willis: It is a fact that these bullets wound up not being significant in the sense of threatening his life.  It is not a fact that you could have predicted that by shooting yourself on a dark beach at 11 o’clock at night. That’s nuts. 

The defense’s crime scene analyst told the jury why he thought Justin had been shot by someone else on the beach that night.  He demonstrated how the bullet holes in the Hawaiian shirt Justin had been wearing and the bullet wounds in his body simply didn’t line up—suggesting his shirt was tugged into an odd position by someone other than Justin when the gunshots were fired.

Alexander Jason, defense crime scene analyst:  It could be consistent with a struggle.  If someone’s fighting with somebody, grabbing their shirt and moving it around, that could account for why it would be pulled down.

But what about the prosecution’s “gotcha” piece of evidence? That photo of blood dripping in only one direction on April’s face?  The prosecution said if April had been shot down at the water’s edge and then dragged up the beach in all the different positions that Justin described, then blood would have dripped all over her face and it hadn’t.  

Willis: It just ain’t so.  I mean, it doesn’t square up with the only people that saw her shortly after her death.

Namely, three people who saw April as she lay on the boardwalk — the first officer on the scene: 

Lieutenant Tanner:  I did not see any initial injuries to her.

That tourist who’d spied the K-car, and was a first responder in his home state:

Attorney: Did you see any blood on her face?

Jason Pryor: No, sir.

And the paramedic who checked April for vital signs: 

Attorney: Did you notice any obvious bleeding?

Brian Erb, paramedic: no, sir.

No blood on her face seen by the first responders. So how’d the blood get there?  The defense’s medical examiner explained the mystery—he said any initial blood was likely washed away as April lay in the shallow surf after being shot.  As for that supposedly damning crime scene photo?  The defense said it had been snapped after April had lain at the foot of the boardwalk for hours, during which time her face wound had slowly started bleeding again.

Willis: What can you tell us about the rest of the bleeding there?

Dr. Sturner, defense medical examiner: This is a rebleed—secondary bleed if you will.

Taking all this into account, and using common sense to evaluate the prosecution’s version of events, Willis says the story Justin Barber told police—and never wavered from—seems much more likely.

Willis: I see it going together real well. If I’m riding along looking for someone to rob, and its 11 o’clock or thereabouts at night, and I see a single car parked, in effect, next to a crosswalk, I know where those people are.  I know they’re on the beach.  And I also know from looking around there’s nobody else around to bother me.  It’s a perfect setup for a robbery if that’s what I’ve got in mind.  And that just makes all too good-a sense. 

But would the jury see it that way? Theirs was the only opinion that mattered.

While tourists in gracious old St. Augustine rode trolley cars past old Spanish walls and browsed for souvenirs on a muggy June day, Justin Barber was on trial for murder in a courtroom a few miles away.

The case was now in the hands of the jury. It  a decision that could mean life or death.  They began with a prayer - and a straw vote.

Glenn, juror: It turned out to be five guilty, two not guilty, and five undecided that were on the fence.

Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: That’s a lot of ground to make up.

Glenn: Yes.

Murphy: You were quite a divided panel at that point.

Glenn:  Yes, we were.

First they had to size up the man who’d sat quietly before them for seven days. 

Carl, juror:  I was trying to see if he looks like the kind of guy that would do something like that.  And he really didn’t strike me—

Murphy: What’d you see when you looked over at him at the table?

Carl:  I just thought I’d seen an innocent man standing there.

Then they had to evaluate Justin Barber’s story about a ball-capped assailant who’d attacked his wife and him on their romantic beach stroll. 

Carl: It didn’t seem like something somebody would make up.  I could actually picture some guy walking up on two people and doing exactly what he said.

The jury also had to mull over the likelihood of the prosecution’s version—that someone would actually shoot themselves four times to get away with murder.

Murphy: Glenn, it’s tough to believe this, isn’t it?

Glenn:  It’s tough to believe.  But honestly, if somebody’s willing to kill their wife by drowning her or, you know, shooting her in the cheek, it  doesn’t seem farfetched at all that someone would, you know, want to cover it up.

Late Wednesday evening: Inside the jury room, no one had budged from their original straw vote— 5-2-5.  The panel called it a night, and was sequestered at an undisclosed hotel.  Thursday morning became Thursday afternoon ... still no decision. 

Friday: the same—no word from the jury. 

Saturday morning: the panel of 12 had now been discussing the case for more than thirty hours over four days. 

Carl: I think on Saturday, I heard “hung jury” being mentioned.  “There’s just not enough evidence to really convict this guy.”

And during those thirty hours, one person was absent from the courthouse vigil.  Justin Barber was now back in a cell, just as he’d been held for two years awaiting trial.  He could do nothing but wait some more.

Murphy:  What’s going on with you?

Justin Barber: I’m waiting for the acquittal.  My lawyers are convinced that it will be an acquittal.  They said the worse case scenario would be a hung jury.  But, there is no way given the evidence of this trial that there will be a conviction.

Justin didn’t take the stand at his trial, but told Dateline what the jurors didn’t hear. 

Murphy: Do you ever think about April?  Do you miss her?

Justin Barber: Everyday.  Everyday. She was one of a kind and I didn’t deserve to have her.

Justin says it was weakness on his part—not a desire to end things with April—that caused him to stray from their three-year marriage. 

Murphy: Why do you think that happened?  Why were there the infidelities, as you look back.

Justin Barber: I don’t know.  I have no excuse for it, and I would never dream of trying to excuse that behavior. I don’t know what really started that, other than I guess I got just a little bit too full of myself.

And while he admits April confronted him with her suspicions about his tennis partner Shannon Kennedy and other women, he says April never gave him an ultimatum about their marriage.  

Justin Barber: I can tell you without a doubt that April never told me that she was divorcing me.

Murphy:  It never came up?  Not that weekend, not in phone calls.

Justin Barber: To say that April had confronted me with leaving and divorcing, not true at all.

He says the mood between them on the night of that fateful anniversary dinner was so agreeable that they decided to go for a romantic walk on the beach ... and that’s when the ball-capped man with a small-caliber pistol came up and opened fire: ending April’s life—and turning Justin’s upside down.

Murphy:  You told people, police, and authorities, and lawyers, again and again, you only remember one shot.  Is that right?

Justin Barber: I remember hearing one shot.  Yes.

Murphy: Was that the shot, you believe, that took out April?

Justin Barber:  I believe it is.

Murphy:  Did you know she had been shot?

Justin Barber:  Yes, I suppose I did know that she was shot.  Because it was quite apparent to me that there was—there was a hole in her face.

Murphy: A lot of people, a lot of guys don’t understand why you would leave her.  Why you would then get in your car.  What was going on?  Can you explain that?

Justin Barber:  I can. I can try to explain.  Physically, I couldn’t go anymore.  My body wasn’t responding.  I could barely move her at that point. 

Murphy:  So, what did you do?

Justin Barber:  I just left her. (starts to cry) it was like something snapped when, the last time I picked her up, and I laid her against that rail. And I wanted to get her over my shoulder to carry her.  And I couldn’t.  And then her body hit the ground.  And it was—it was loud.  And it was shocking to me.  And it—and I just left.

As for the prosecution’s story—a tale of a heinous act plotted out by a devious husband, Justin says none of it is true.

Murphy: What he’s telling the jury is that this is a guy, who was bored with his wife, wanted freedom to be with other women, and a nice, tidy payday of more than $2 million resulting from her death.

Justin Barber: That’s ridiculous.  I would never kill anybody.  I could never.  And particularly not April. I’m not murderer.  I am not a violent person.  I would never, never have done that to April.

Murphy:  Did you kill your wife?

Justin Barber: No, sir.  I did not kill her.

Murphy:  With a small pistol, shot her in the face?

Justin Barber: No, sir I did—

Murphy:  --cause you wanted her insurance?

Justin Barber: Absolutely not.

Murphy: --wanted to have other women?

Justin Barber:  I wanted April to be happy.  She deserved to be happy.  And whether that was with me or with somebody else, that’s all I ever wanted for her.  I would never have done that to her.

12 strangers were together a jury.  Had they been persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that Justin Barber had murdered his wife on a deserted beach?

The jury had been going back and forth in four days of deliberations. The growing courtroom speculation outside their closed door was: a hung jury, a mistrial.

But, in fact, the twelve had finally reached a consensus, a verdict.

Glenn, juror: People were crying. It was definitely an emotional time.

Then—a knock on the jury room door.  The word went out: they’re coming back.  Family and friends, jammed into courtroom benches to await the decision.

Charlie, juror: Your whole body’s taut, tense.  Just all knotted up. You know, we’re just tense, holding onto each other.  Holding hands.

Patti Parrish: I couldn’t even believe that we were really sitting there.  And that April was gone.  And that Justin was sitting there across the room from us.

Verdict reading: We the jury find Justin Mertis Barber guilty.

Justin Barber, guilty of first degree murder for the slaying of his wife April.  His mother, Linda, was at a loss.

Linda Barber, Justin's mother: I keep thinking, she didn’t say that.  She couldn’t have said that.  I couldn’t believe that the jury could find that.  I don’t understand what happened. 

The following Monday the jury reconvened, and after a short deliberation, recommended—in a split vote—that Justin Barber be put to death for murdering April. 

Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: Where do you go from here?  How do you do your time?

Justin Barber: I fight.  I’m going to death row.  And I’m willing to fight with everything that I have.

Murphy:  I mean, if you did do it, there’s a time to just say, “Okay, I wish that hadn’t happened, but for whatever reasons, it did.”

Justin Barber:  I’m innocent.  And I will fight it until I die.

For April’s family the four-year-long fight for justice is finally over. But the victory has brought pain as well as relief.

Patti Parrish, April’s aunt:  I was, needless to say, very pleased with the verdict.  It was the outcome that I had hoped for.  But it just hurt.  It just hurt.

Julie Lott: My sister was my best friend. She cared for everybody, she cared for me and my little brother.  She took care of us in ways that nobody has.

She loved her friends and family, devoted herself to comforting the ill. We’re told to speak well of the dead, in the instance of April Lott Barber’s brief life, it’s not a difficult task at all.

Justin Barber says he plans to appeal his conviction. Though the jury has recommended he be put to death. The judge gets the final say. Sentencing is scheduled for one week from today.

April’s family is in litigation with Justin Barber over the money from her life insurance policy. The family has also filed a wrongful death suit against him.  

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