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Drugs used as defense in Pa. murder trial

April 19, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The question facing a Franklin County jury this week is not who killed Wendy Wise Shuchman but the degree of guilt for Kevin J. Barrett.

The jury of seven men and five women on Monday began hearing the prosecution case against Barrett, 35, of 627 Siloam Road, Chambersburg. He is charged with criminal homicide in the Sept. 7, 1997, shooting of his former girlfriend.

"The commonwealth has taken the position that Kevin Barrett committed first-degree murder," Assistant District Attorney T.R. Williams said in his opening statement in the courtroom of Judge Richard J. Walsh. A first-degree murder conviction would carry a life sentence.

Attorney Stephen D. Kulla told the jury Barrett suffered from a mental infirmity and cocaine and marijuana intoxication that made him from unable to form a specific intent to kill.

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"The combination of mental illness and his extreme intoxication caused Kevin Barrett to snap," Kulla said. He told jurors they could find him guilty of third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.

Kulla said Barrett had been in the mental health unit at Carlisle (Pa.) Hospital a week before the shooting.

In his opening statement Williams said a diminished-capacity defense can only reduce Barrett's level of guilt to third-degree murder, which carries a maximum of 40 years in prison.

Schuchman, 32, of 136 Kennedy St., was shot twice in the chest with a 12-gauge shotgun at 2:21 a.m. in the parking lot of Siggy's Food & Spirits, 454 Norland Ave. Barrett then shot himself in the chest with the weapon, according to borough police.

Williams called 17 witnesses Monday, several of whom saw the shooting.

Scott Myers of Greencastle, Pa., said Barrett shot Schuchman at close range as she stood by her car. He said Barrett chambered another round and shot her again as she was falling to the ground.

"She said 'Kevin, no. Kevin, no,' before the second shot," Myers said.

Before the shooting Nancy Parks of Chambersburg was inside sitting near Schuchman. She testified Barrett walked up to Schuchman and said, "You're dead."

"You never came forward to the district attorney and told them that story before," Kulla said. He asked why she had not told that to investigators until last Friday.

"I was told that someone would contact me," Parks said.

Kulla asked her why she did not report the threat in her original statement to police.

"I told them the same thing I said here," Parks said.

Several people testified Barrett came into the bar and sat at a table a few feet from Schuchman. Some said they saw him talk to her but did not hear what he said.

Barrett was taken to York Hospital after shooting himself, and two nurses testified about statements he made.

"He loved her and she did not want him anymore, so that's why he killed her," Patricia Markley said, reading from notes she made Sept. 10, 1997.

Barrett's other attorney, Eric J. Weisbrod, pointed out on cross-examination that Barrett had been given sedatives and morphine for his injuries when he made the statements.

Some of Barrett's family members testified he talked about killing Schuchman a few weeks before the shooting.

"He had a plan and he was going to kill her and then kill himself," said Shane Shatzer of Chambersburg, a cousin.

Cousin Heather Fleming of Chambersburg said Barrett also threatened to kill Schuchman's daughter "if she got in the way."

During cross-examination they said Barrett made the statements before he went to Carlisle.

Kulla said Barrett will take the stand during the trial, which drew about 50 spectators in addition to witnesses.

The prosecution will resume it case this morning.

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