Summary of Offense:
James Barnes was convicted in the murder of Patricia Patsy Miller.
On April 20, 1988, Barnes went to Miller’s condominium unit in Melbourne, Florida, took off all his clothes in order not to leave evidence, obtained entry by removing a screen, and entered through a bedroom window. Barnes admitted he went there with the intent to rape and kill Miller. Once inside, he armed himself with a knife from the kitchen. After secretly watching Miller go about her normal activities for a short period of time, he confronted her in the bathroom and forced her at knife-point to the bedroom where he sexually battered her. He then bound her hands behind her back using shoelaces he had removed from some tennis shoes, tied her feet together, and sexually battered her again. Barnes admitted he tried unsuccessfully to strangle her to death with a belt he had removed from her terrycloth robe, so he bludgeoned the back of her head with a hammer he found in her bedroom. Barnes confessed that he collected everything he touched in Miller’s residence, including the clothing Miller was wearing, and placed the articles in a bag. Barnes then set fire to the bed where Miller’s body lay in order to eliminate forensic evidence left there. Before leaving in his car, Barnes took all the items he had bagged, as well as the window screen he had removed, and left to dispose of the items at another location.
Shortly after 11:00 p.m., firefighters responded to a fire alarm at the condominium complex and found Miller’s charred body face down on the bed in her master bedroom. Her hands were still bound behind her back with shoelaces. The medical examiner testified that the cause of death was blunt-force trauma from multiple blows to Miller’s head. The blows were consistent with being beaten with a hammer. Signs of attempted strangulation were also discovered in the autopsy. The medical examiner determined that Miller’s body was set ablaze after she died from the multiple blows to her head.
Despite Barnes’ attempt to destroy forensic evidence by setting the bed ablaze, sperm was recovered from Miller and preserved for DNA testing. Within one week of the murder, the police considered Barnes a suspect, and he was questioned by Sergeant Dennis Nichols of the Melbourne Police Department. At that time, Barnes denied any involvement with the murder and agreed to give a sample of his blood for possible DNA comparison. In 1988, however, the available method of DNA testing was inadequate to produce a match and the case remained unsolved.
In 1997, the sperm recovered from Miller was resubmitted for DNA testing and produced a positive match to Barnes. Barnes was serving a life sentence for the 1997 first-degree strangulation murder of his wife, Linda Barnes. Sergeant Nichols and Brevard Sheriff‘s Office Lieutenant Todd Goodyear traveled to the prison to speak with Barnes about the Miller murder, but he refused to speak to them. For unspecified reasons, charges were not filed against Barnes for the Miller murder at this time. He was not charged until after he wrote several letters to an assistant state attorney in 2005 and confessed in a recorded interview, which Barnes arranged and in which he was questioned by another inmate about the Miller murder. In that videotaped interview on November 1, 2005, Barnes admitted to the burglary, sexual batteries, murder, and arson. During his interview, Barnes described with accuracy Miller’s physical appearance, the interior of the apartment, and specific objects he saw in the apartment. Further, his descriptions of the homicide, the sexual batteries, and the arson were consistent with the evidence gathered by police.
Barnes was sentenced to death in Brevard County on December 13, 2007.