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Florida man who dropped appeals is executed for 1988 rape and hammer killing of a nurse

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)

James Phillip Barnes, 61, received a lethal injection Thursday evening at Florida State Prison in Starke.

A Florida man who recently dropped all legal appeals was executed Thursday for the 1988 murder of a woman who was sexually assaulted, killed with a hammer and then set on fire in her own bed.

James Phillip Barnes, 61, was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m. following a lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke, said Jason Mahon, a spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The 61-year-old inmate was sentenced to death for the murder of nurse Patricia “Patsy” Miller. The governor's spokesman said Barnes had no final words.

It was the fifth execution in Florida 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 killing Miller years earlier at her condominium in Melbourne on 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 on April 20, 1988, had some previous unspecified negative interactions with him, according to a jailhouse interview he gave German 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.

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. After pleading guilty, Barnes 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 time served for 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.

After DeSantis signed the inmate’s 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 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 had 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.