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Man guilty of first-degree murder

April 22, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The second shot Kevin J. Barrett fired into Wendy Wise Schuchman persuaded the jury to hand down a verdict of first-degree murder, according to the jury foreman.

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"I find it hard to believe he accidentally shot her twice," Danny Young, of Chambersburg, said after the verdict.

Some family members and friends of Schuchman cheered when the verdict was announced in Franklin County Judge Richard J. Walsh's courtroom. While family and friends sobbed behind him, Barrett hugged his attorneys, Stephen D. Kulla and Eric J. Weisbrod.

The verdict carries a mandatory life sentence, but Walsh said he wanted a pre-sentence report prepared.

"It's not necessary, sir," Barrett said.

When Walsh scheduled sentencing for June 9, Barrett said, "I'd like to have it done sooner if at all possible."

"He got what was coming to him and she can rest in peace, and there's closure now," said Schuchman's mother, Jacqueline Wise, of Chambersburg.

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"I'm disappointed. I'm not really surprised," said Barrett's father, John Barrett.

"We were playing against a stacked deck," the father said, but would not elaborate.

The question for jurors was not whether Barrett killed his former girlfriend, but the degree of guilt.

In his closing argument, Weisbrod said there was insufficient evidence to conclude Barrett acted "willfully, deliberately and with premeditation" when he shot Schuchman twice with a shotgun on Sept. 7, 1997, in the parking lot of Siggy's Food & Spirits, 454 Norland Ave. He then shot himself in the chest.

"He was confused, severely depressed ... extremely intoxicated," Weisbrod told the jury of seven men and five women. He asked them to return a verdict of third-degree murder, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years.

Weisbrod reminded the jury Barrett admitted he had a stormy relationship with Schuchman, 32, who lived at 136 Kennedy St.

Barrett testified he held a gun to her head on Aug. 13, 1997, and checked himself into a hospital for drug and alcohol problems a few days later.

Friends and relatives testified Barrett made verbal threats about Schuchman, but Weisbrod said those came only under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

A defense psychiatrist testified Barrett suffered from cocaine intoxication and major depression at the time of the shooting, and that his ability to form a specific intent to kill was impaired.

"Sympathy has no place in your deliberations in this case," Assistant District Attorney T.R. Williams told the jury.

"The defendant here basically wants you to show him mercy," he said. "The defendant showed no mercy to the victim in this case. He basically executed her."

During the four-day trial, Barrett testified that he meant to kill himself in front of Schuchman when he returned to the bar that morning. He said he snorted a gram of cocaine off a photograph of Schuchman half an hour before the shooting.

Barrett testified he did not remember shooting Schuchman before he turned the gun on himself.

"He actually had to have had the intent to shoot in her direction, reload and shoot again as she was falling," Young said.

The jury deliberated about three hours before reaching a verdict at 2:44 p.m. but sent a question to Walsh at about 2 p.m.

Young said the jury wanted clarification on the difference between first- and third-degree murder and wanted to see the murder weapon, a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun.

Jurors concluded Barrett formed a specific intent to get the shotgun from his home, load it with three shells and return to the bar before the shooting, Young said.

Williams said the number of shells in the shotgun showed Barrett's intent to kill Schuchman, as well as himself.

"I've never done anything like this before and I hope I never have to do it again," Young said.

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