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Florida is set to execute inmate James Phillip Barnes in a nurse's 1988 hammer killing

A photo of James Phillip Barnes in an orange jumpsuit.
R213SJC/AP
/
Florida Department of Corrections
This image provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows James Phillip Barnes. The Florida man is set to be executed Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023 after dropping all appeals in the 1988 slaying of a woman who was sexually assaulted and beaten to death with a hammer, her body set ablaze in her own bed. James Phillip Barnes is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison in Starke. (Florida Department of Corrections via AP)

Florida is preparing to execute James Phillip Barnes, 61, who was convicted of strangling his wife and brutally murdering another woman years earlier.

Florida is preparing to execute a man convicted of strangling his wife and brutally murdering another woman years earlier — a lethal injection that's expected to proceed on schedule after he dropped all legal appeals and said he wants to accept his punishment.

James Phillip Barnes, 61, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison in Starke. He would be the fifth person put to death in the state this year.

Barnes was serving a life sentence for the 1997 strangulation of his wife, 44-year-old Linda Barnes, when he wrote letters in 2005 to a state prosecutor claiming responsibility for the killing years earlier of Patricia “Patsy” Miller, a nurse who lived in a condominium in Melbourne, along Florida's east coast.

Barnes represented himself in court hearings where he offered no defense, pleaded guilty to killing Miller and did not attempt to seek a life sentence rather than the death penalty. Miller, who was 41 when Barnes killed her, had had some unspecified negative interactions with him, according to a jailhouse interview he gave to film director Werner Herzog.

“There were several events that happened (with Miller). I felt terribly humiliated, that's all I can say,” Barnes said in the interview.

Barnes killed Miller at her home on April 20, 1988. When he pleaded guilty, Barnes told the judge that after breaking into Miller's unit, "I raped her twice. I tried to strangle her to death. I hit her head with a hammer and killed her and I set her bed on fire,” according to court records.

There was also DNA evidence linking Barnes to Miller's killing. Barnes pleaded guilty to killing her and was sentenced to death on Dec. 13, 2007. He also pleaded guilty to sexual battery, arson, and burglary with an assault and battery.

Barnes killed his wife in 1997 after she discovered that he was dealing drugs. Her body was found stuffed in a closet after she was strangled, court records show. Barnes has claimed to have killed at least two other people but has never been charged in those cases.

Barnes had been in and out of prison since his teenage years, including convictions for grand theft, forgery, burglary and trafficking in stolen property.

In the Miller case, state lawyers appointed to represent Barnes filed initial appeals, including one that led to mental competency evaluations. Two doctors found that Barnes had symptoms of personality disorder with “borderline antisocial and sociopathic features.” However, they pronounced him competent to understand his legal situation and plead guilty, and his convictions and death sentence were upheld.

“Mr. Barnes’ willing acceptance of death, the punishment put in place by the justice system, does not absolve the state from bringing it about. Simply put, no one should be executed in our modern penal system, even if they willingly accept it.”
Letter by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops

After Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his death warrant in June, a Brevard County judge granted Barnes' motion to drop all appeals involving mitigating evidence such as his mental condition and said “that he wanted to accept responsibility for his actions and to proceed to execution (his death) without any delay," court records show.

Though unusual, condemned inmates sometimes don't pursue every legal avenue to avoid execution. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that about 150 such inmates have been put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the death penalty as constitutional in 1976.

The Florida Supreme Court accepted the Brevard County ruling, noting last week that no other motion seeking a stay of execution for Barnes had been filed in state or federal court.

In the Herzog interview, Barnes said he converted to Islam in prison and wanted to clear his conscience about the Miller case during the holy month of Ramadan.

“They say I’m remorseless. I’m not. There are no more questions on this case. And I’m going to be executed,” Barnes said.

In a recent letter, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops asked DeSantis to grant a stay of execution and commute Barnes' sentence to life in prison even though Barnes isn't seeking such relief. The Catholic church opposes the death penalty.

“Mr. Barnes’ willing acceptance of death, the punishment put in place by the justice system, does not absolve the state from bringing it about. Simply put, no one should be executed in our modern penal system, even if they willingly accept it,” the letter said.

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