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Man sentenced to 65 years in Jonathan Street shooting

Washington County Circuit Court jury convicted Juan Sylvester Barnes of second-degree murder

November 30, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Juan Sylvester Barnes
Submitted by Hagerstown Police Department

A Prince George’s County man was sentenced to 65 years in state prison Friday after a Washington County Circuit Court jury convicted him of second-degree murder in the January shooting death of a New York City man on Jonathan Street.

Juan Sylvester Barnes, of no fixed address, also was convicted of use of a handgun in a crime of violence and being in illegal possession of a firearm due to a disqualifying conviction. The jury did not find Barnes guilty of the most serious offense, first-degree murder, which could have meant a life sentence.

Circuit Judge John H. McDowell ordered that Barnes serve the sentence consecutively to any other sentence he is currently serving, McDowell said.

Barnes, 29, is serving eight years for violating parole on a 2005 robbery conviction in Prince George’s County, Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher McCormack told McDowell before the sentence was handed down.

Barnes was charged in the Jan. 24 shooting death of Christopher Lee Follett, 29, of New York City. Follett was shot in the forehead in the 300 block of Jonathan Street.

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In his closing argument, Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher McCormack said that Charel Burnett had been seeing Barnes for several months before the shooting and identified him as the shooter from a photo array Jan. 25. Burnett’s mother testified she saw Barnes with her daughter shortly before the shooting, McCormack told the jury.

A liquor store owner also testified she saw Burnett and Barnes together the day before the shooting, McCormack told the jury.

Barnes and Burnett were walking down the street when they encountered Burnett’s former boyfriend with Follett and some other men, McCormack told the jury. The ex-boyfriend “starts mouthing off” and  Barnes pulled a gun, he said.

Follett put up his hands and said, “Chill, chill,” and Barnes turned and began walking away, McCormack told the jury. The ex-boyfriend then “opens his mouth again,” he said.

That was when Barnes turned and fired, hitting Follett in the head, McCormack told the jury.

Barnes was arrested several days later in Greenbelt, Md., and police officers saw a gun drop from his waistband as he fled out the window of an apartment, McCormack told the jury. The gun was test fired, and the defense and state stipulated that the .45-caliber Taurus semiautomatic was a ballistic match to a shell casing found at the shooting scene, he said.

Deputy District Public Defender Eric Reed pointed the finger of suspicion at Burnett, telling the jury in his closing argument that she was interviewed by police several times on the day of the shooting and told police it was someone she only knew by a street name and then named another man.

After the shooting, Burnett did not go to directly to police, Reed said.

“You could infer she had something to hide,” Reed told the jury.

Burnett was the only person to testify that Barnes was the shooter, Reed told the jury. The police developed “tunnel vision” in the case, focusing only on Barnes, he said.

The gun, magazine, shell casings and live rounds were never tested for fingerprints and police did not test Burnett or anyone else for gunpowder residue, Reed said.

There were no fingerprints or other forensic evidence tying Barnes to the shooting, said Reed, who also questioned inconsistencies in the testimony of police officers who arrested Barnes in Greenbelt and recovered the weapon.

“I don’t hate you. I just wanted answers on why you took my cousin’s life,” Nadia Campbell of the Bronx, N.Y., said to Barnes when she spoke for Follett’s family.

Her tone changed as she spoke when she commented that she saw “a smirk” on Barnes’ face.

“I hope you rot wherever you’re going,” Campbell said.

“I’ll be back,” Barnes said as deputies led him from the courtroom.

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