When Justin Barber and his wife April sneaked into the Guana River State Park just outside Jacksonville, they were celebrating their third wedding anniversary. The couple knew entering the park was illegal, but they weren’t harming anyone, so they didn’t see an issue.
Barber claims that he and April were approached by a man in a baggy shirt who demanded money from them as well as their car keys. When that altercation turned nasty, things took a turn for the worse…
The couple had married back in 1999 and were visiting Jacksonville to celebrate their third wedding anniversary. According to their friends and family, this couple was happy together and often took trips away to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. However, this trip was different and ended in tragedy…
The Guana River State Park was officially closed at the time, but both Justin and April decided that they wanted to take a romantic walk on the beach hand-in-hand. According to Barber, he and April were approached by a man with a gun who mugged them on the secluded beach. April was shot in the face while Justin was shot four times – twice in the shoulders, once under the right nipple and once through his left hand, he claimed.
While Barber claimed that he had stepped in front of his wife to save her life, taking four shots himself, his body language and general demeanor said otherwise. When police took him to the site of the incident to recount the events, he acted strangely, pinching his eyes to make himself cry. But police and one particular body language expert weren’t buying it.
Faking It: Tears Of A Crime is a documentary series which caught killers who tried to hide their crimes through crocodile tears and outlandish stories. One body language expert, Cliff Lansey, claimed on a recent episode of the show that Barber was lying and shot himself just to cover up the murder of his wife.
According to the show, Barber looked guilty when he spoke about the night his wife was murdered. He was filmed taking police to the scene of the crime and then appeared on television appealing for help to catch his wife’s killer. But the body language experts were watching him, and Barber allegedly showed many suspicious signs of guilt.
According to Lansley, “He’s not feeling sad here, he’s faking it,” he said. “He’s squeezing the eyeballs with his thumb and his forefinger. We see this so often, when people want to create some tears on their cheeks,” he added. Lansley also claimed that Barber was feigning shock by putting on a “quivering” voice, according to a Daily Mail report.
Lansley claims that he is sure that Barber is lying about his wife’s murder. “He also gave away the truth with his contorted facial expressions, over-emphasized speech and the over-extended head shakes that negate the words he says,” he said. But when police checked Barber’s Google searches on his personal computer, a clearer picture of this man came out.
The fact that Barber had downloaded the song I Used To Love Her But I Had To Kill Her, by Guns N’ Roses, the day before the murder was damning enough. But when computer forensic experts found Google searches including the phrase “medical trauma right chest,” they realized that Barber had researched where to shoot himself but not fatally, to cover up for his crime.
Having been taken to court and convicted of first-degree murder, Barber then claimed that he wanted another trial due to “ineffective counsel.” However, Circuit Judge Patti Christensen denied his motion for post-conviction relief, which had been submitted by attorney William Mallory Kent of Jacksonville. The judge rebuked claims that the defendant’s original defense team failed him. “The record clearly shows that Trial Counsel put on a formidable defense,” she wrote.
Barber’s original defense team, as well as his new one, said they were unhappy with the verdict and strongly believed their client to be innocent. “It vindicates the process, but it doesn’t necessarily vindicate the outcome (of the trial),” they said. “We are still less than completely satisfied with the verdict.” The fact that the jury in the trial was split 8 to 4, the judge still sentenced Barber to life in jail without parole.
According to Assistant state attorney Chris France, who prosecuted the case along with Matt Foxman, the pair said they are glad there won’t be a retrial. “We’re happy with the order denying relief,” France said. “I’m most happy for the family of April Barber. It would have been horrible (to be put through another trial).”
The main thrust of Barber’s appeal was the fact that his attorneys had a financial incentive to reject a plea deal from the state. The issue surrounded life insurance policies on April totaling $2.4 million. At the time, Willis and Hutton were in a position to make $1 million in fees if they won both the civil and criminal cases. Even though the lawyers advised their client to give the proceeds of those policies to April’s family, the state was having a hard time coming up with a solid indictment.
According to the judge at the time, removing any financial benefit from the murder “would negate the primary motive attributed to him by the State in the killing of his wife,” Christensen wrote. At the same time, a civil case for the insurance money would have put Barber in the firing line again to be susceptible to questioning about the murder allegation.
As Christensen wrote at the time: “If he pursued his claim on the proceeds, he would have to choose between his 5th Amendment right to remain silent, or give a deposition and answer interrogatories.” But Barber’s attorney claimed the case wasn’t about money at all. “This case was not about money,” he testified. “As naive as it may sound, we believed in this guy. I think there was a huge miscarriage of justice; I still do.”
Even though it doesn’t seem to be on the cards, Willis said, “I would like to see him get a new trial.” This is because it seems Barber’s legal team honestly believe that he is innocent and would never have been able to shoot himself four times on the beach. The fact that Barber and his team were looking for nothing less than a full acquittal just complicated matters further.
Not only did Barber not want a plea deal, but he also wanted his case at the time to be heard in court as he was confident of an acquittal. “Willis also explained that Defendant was steadfast and adamant that he wanted to go to trial and be found not guilty, a position Defendant himself confirmed at the 3.850 hearing,” Christensen wrote.
Before long, Barber’s case became embroiled in confusion and all because of legal technicalities. One of his team argued that there was a conflict of interest with Willis and Hutton, and a legal ethics expert named Amy Mashburn was brought in to testify. However, as it turned out, Barber was upset that he had taken the advice of his lawyers, maintaining his innocence throughout.
While maintaining his innocence for the murder of his wife, Barber said at the time, “I had a bad habit of following my lawyers’ advice and (Willis) was very sure we would get a not guilty verdict,” he said. But it was too late by this stage as sentence had already been passed and Barber was looking at a life sentence without parole.
While it did seem strange that Barber suddenly shot his wife in the face as well as shooting himself four times to cover the crime, his Google searches were simply too damning to be ignored. The prosecution’s argument that he had downloaded the Guns N’ Roses song, as well as specific information on non-fatal shootings, was what signed this man’s death warrant, so to speak.
Having been convicted and sent to prison for life, some questions still haunt both the prosecution and the defense in this case. While prosecutors are convinced that Barber is guilty of the charges against him, his defense team is equally sure that he is innocent and couldn’t possibly have shot his wife and then himself. For the time being, Justin Barber sits in jail which is the place many feel he belongs.