May 21, 2024

Florida set to execute inmate James Phillip Barnes in nurse’s 1988 hammer killing

A Florida man sentenced to death for the 1988 attack on a woman who was sexually assaulted and killed with a hammer, then set on fire in her own bed, is set for execution Thursday after dropping all his appeals and saying he was ready to die.

James Phillip Barnes, 61, was to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. at Florida State Prison in Starke. It would mark the fifth execution this year in Florida.

Barnes was serving a life sentence for the 1997 strangulation of his wife, 44-year-old Linda Barnes, when he wrote letters in 2005 to a state prosecutor claiming responsibility for the killing years earlier of Patricia “Patsy” Miller, a nurse who lived in a condominium in Melbourne, along Florida’s east coast.

Barnes represented himself in court hearings where he offered no defense, pleaded guilty to killing Miller and accepted the death penalty. Miller, who was 41 when Barnes killed her, had some previous unspecified negative interactions with him, according to a jailhouse interview he gave to German film director Werner Herzog.

“There were several events that happened (with Miller). I felt terribly humiliated, that’s all I can say,” Barnes said in the interview.

Barnes killed Miller at her home on April 20, 1988. When he pleaded guilty, Barnes told the judge that after breaking into Miller’s unit, “I raped her twice. I tried to strangle her to death. I hit her head with a hammer and killed her and I set her bed on fire,” according to court records.

There was also DNA evidence linking Barnes to Miller’s killing. After pleading guilty, Barnes was sentenced to death on Dec. 13, 2007. He also pleaded guilty to sexual battery, arson, and burglary with an assault and battery.

Barnes killed his wife in 1997 after she discovered that he was dealing drugs. Her body was found stuffed in a closet after she was strangled, court records show. Barnes has claimed to have killed at least two other people but has never been charged in those cases.

Barnes had been in and out of prison since his teenage years, including convictions for grand theft, forgery, burglary and trafficking in stolen property.

In the Miller case, state lawyers appointed to represent Barnes filed initial appeals, including one that led to mental competency evaluations. Two doctors found that Barnes had symptoms of personality disorder with “borderline antisocial and sociopathic features.” However, they pronounced him competent to understand his legal situation and plead guilty, and his convictions and death sentence were upheld.

After Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his death warrant in June, a Brevard County judge granted Barnes’ motion to drop all appeals involving mitigating evidence such as his mental condition and said “that he wanted to accept responsibility for his actions and to proceed to execution (his death) without any delay,” court records show.

Though unusual, condemned inmates sometimes don’t pursue every legal avenue to avoid execution. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that about 150 such inmates have been put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the death penalty as constitutional in 1976.

The Florida Supreme Court accepted the Brevard County ruling, noting that no other motion seeking a stay of execution for Barnes had been filed in state or federal court.

In the Herzog interview, Barnes said he converted to Islam in prison and wanted to clear his conscience about the Miller case during the holy month of Ramadan.

“They say I’m remorseless. I’m not. There are no more questions on this case. And I’m going to be executed,” Barnes said.

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