In October 2006, Judge Edward Hedstrom overruled the 8-4 jury recommendation that Justin Mertis Barber should be executed; imposing a lesser sentence of life in prison, without parole, for the 2002 murder of his wife, April — but, today, a different judge refused his motion to be granted a new trial.
Last year, Barber, dropped his trial lawyer, Robert Willis, and hired William Mallory Kent to argue that Willis provided him with ineffective counsel because he had a financial conflict of interest.
The motion said Willis didn’t want Barber to accept a plea in the murder case, when it was offered, because Willis also represented Barber in a civil lawsuit where he had the potential to earn about $1 million dollars in legal fees.
Today, Circuit Judge Patti Christensen ruled that Barber’s trial lawyer, in fact, put on a formidable defense; saying Willis’ cross-examination of state witnesses was effective and at times blistering and that Willis was loyal in his representation.
Christensen found that, at the time, Barber was adamant that he wanted to go to trial and that he ignored Willis’ advice to abandon his civil claim to his dead wife’s life insurance policy since pursing the $2 million dollar benefit would only help the state develop its case against him.
Barber’s lawyer has 30 days to appeal the ruling.