Brevard County death row inmate James Barnes — who confessed to killing his estranged wife in 1997, court records show — was executed today for the brutal 1988 murder of another woman, Patricia “Patsy” Miller, inside her Melbourne condominium.
Barnes, 61, was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 6:13 p.m. at Florida State Prison in rural Bradford County, northwest of Starke.
He became the 104th person executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Department of Corrections records show. This was Florida’s fifth execution in the past six months under Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate.
In May 2006, Barnes pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the homicide of Miller, a 41-year-old nurse. He was sentenced to death in December 2007. He was also convicted of two counts of sexual battery, armed burglary and arson in the case.
According to Barnes’ sentencing order, he entered her condo through a bedroom window and repeatedly raped her, strangled her with her bathrobe belt, killed her by striking her head with a hammer, and set her bed on fire with her body on it to eliminate evidence.
Barnes confessed to Miller’s murder while he was behind bars — he had been sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife, Linda, 44, in her home just outside West Melbourne. He strangled her, then placed her body in a bedroom closet, his sentencing order said.
‘I am prepared for execution’:Here’s how Brevard death row inmate waived his appeals
Andrew Miller, the brother of Barnes’ victim, Patricia Miller, spoke at a news conference after the execution. He praised the work of Melbourne police detectives for sticking with the 1988 case and not giving up over the years.
Miller said his family sees similarities between his sister and Barnes’ other victim, his estranged wife, Linda.
“The commonality between these two women? They were both hard-working professionals. They were someone’s daughter. They were someone’s sister. They were someone’s mother,” Miller said.
“No one should live in fear within the safety of their own home. We do. My family does,” he said.
Florida executed Brevard County death row inmate James Barnes on Thursday. His official time of death was 6:13 p.m.
“The execution took place without incident,” Kayla McLaughlin, spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, said during a press conference.
Barnes did not give a final statement.
Before his execution, about 20 witnesses gathered inside a white-walled rectangular execution-chamber viewing room, seated in gray padded chairs facing a large glass window. At 6 p.m., the curtain behind the window slowly opened and Barnes could be seen lying on a gurney inside the chamber, covered by a white sheet. His left arm was exposed with IV tubes and a brown strap attached.
At 6:01 p.m., Barnes declined to give a final statement, and the execution process began. Three suited execution team members wearing earpieces observed him from a few feet away. At 6:12 p.m., a physician emerged to check his vital signs.
Barnes was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m., and the curtain slowly lowered. The witnesses in the viewing room remained silent and stoic throughout the proceedings.
“James Barnes was a violent and ruthless criminal,” Melbourne Police Chief David Gillespie said in a Thursday email.
“And, while today’s execution ensures he will never harm another individual again, let us not forget the victims and the torture they had endured. My heart goes out to the victims and their families,” Gillespie said.
While serving a life sentence for his wife’s murder, Barnes mailed a letter in October 2005 to Assistant State Attorney Michael Hunt in Viera saying a fellow inmate — who he described as “my Muslim brother” — had convinced him to “confess an unresolved matter” that happened in 1988 in Melbourne.
Specifically, Barnes offered in the letter to grant a jailhouse interview to law enforcement. During that interview, which was videotaped by a Melbourne police detective three weeks later, Barnes described how he had brutalized and killed Miller at her home in the River Oaks Condominiums before setting her bed ablaze with her body in it, his sentencing order said.
Seven years earlier, in 1998, advances in DNA testing had linked Barnes to the homicide, his sentencing order said. But he had refused to speak with Brevard County Sheriff’s Office investigators about the matter.
In his October 2005 letter written from the Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City, Barnes noted that it was Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, which he described as “a time of purification.”
Barnes also confessed to Miller’s homicide and provided a detailed narrative of his crimes in a pair of December 2005 follow-up letters to Hunt.
“Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not looking to go to death row. As you can tell from the video, I like fresh air and sunshine and being healthy. I plan on living another 40+ years,” Barnes wrote on Dec. 7, 2005.
Barnes was interviewed from prison for an episode of “On Death Row,” a 2012 United Kingdom television miniseries by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.
During that episode, Barnes said he fatally shot and buried Chester Wetmore, a teenager who was last seen leaving his Bradenton home in May 1986. Barnes also said he was involved in a crime regarding Brenda Joyce Fletcher, whose body was discovered in April 1991 in a water-filled drainage ditch near an Interstate 95 on-ramp at State Road 520 west of Cocoa.
Investigators did not file charges in either case, both of which remain unresolved. During the “On Death Row” episode, Herzog voiced doubts regarding Barnes’ alleged confessions.
“I was suspicious of Barnes using me as an instrument either to procrastinate or speed up his execution by opening new cases against him,” Herzog said during the episode.
Fletcher remains listed as an unsolved homicide on the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office website, while Wetmore remains listed as a missing person on the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office website.
“Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives spoke to Werner Herzog about the alleged confession. They reviewed the confession video and found that Barnes was extremely manipulative and was possibly using this confession as a tactic to stay his execution — Herzog agreed,” MCSO spokesperson Randy Warren said in a Thursday email.
“Lengthy follow into this information was completed, but there was no information discovered to even confirm Barnes knew Wetmore. Barnes also refused to speak with our detectives about the case,” Warren said.
“After a thorough investigation, we have no reason to connect Barnes with the Missing person case of Chester Wetmore,” he said.
Similarly, in a Thursday email, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said an investigation of Barnes’ allegations found no evidence linking him to having any contact with Fletcher prior to her death.
“A review of the evidence recovered from the scene found no evidence linking Barnes to the victim or the scene itself. The information provided by Barnes consisted of publicly available information and there is no credible information that gives validity to his claims,” Ivey said.
“His self-serving, baseless confessions gave false hope to two families that their cases might come to a successful conclusion — knowing the information he provided was publicly available or could not be corroborated. This is yet another example of his narcissism for self-gratification,” he said.
As of Thursday, there were 292 inmates on Florida’s death row, Department of Corrections records show.
No executions had occurred in Florida since August 2019, when Gary Bowles of Duval County was put to death, before the pace increased this year under DeSantis’ watch, DOC records show.
Executions in 2023 include Donald Dillbeck from Leon County in February, Louis Gaskin from Flagler County in April, Darryl Barwick from Bay County in May, and Duane Owen from Palm Beach County in June.
Barnes would become the fifth Florida death row inmate executed within the past six months. DeSantis signed his death warrant on June 22.
Florida State Prison has a capacity of 1,460 inmates.
James Barnes woke up at 5:30 a.m. today, said Kayla McLaughlin, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections.
He did not request a last meal. Barnes also did not have any visitors or meet with any spiritual advisors, McLaughlin told journalists at a short news conference across the street from the prison.
Per prison policy, prisoners are entitled to a last meal. The last meal must cost no more than $40 and must be purchased locally.
McLaughlin said that relatives of Barnes’ victims will be present later to address the media.
The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes capital punishment, has scheduled a series of prayer vigils today across the Sunshine State.
Attendees will “pray for Mr. Barnes, his victims and their families, for our society which continues to impose violence in return for violence, and for an end to the use of the death penalty,” a FCCB press release said.
Vigils are scheduled throughout the day at dioceses in West Palm Beach, Tallahassee, Venice and St. Augustine. Church officials want Barnes’ death sentence commuted to a life sentence without parole.
“In staying Mr. Barnes’ execution and commuting his sentence, you would have the support of the Church and of the many Floridians who support alternatives to the death penalty,” a July 24 FCCB letter to DeSantis said.
In addition, Tallahassee Citizens Against the Death Penalty will conduct a vigil in front of the governor’s mansion at 6 p.m. in Tallahassee. If the execution occurs, the organization will conduct a service of remembrance at noon Friday at the State Capitol rotunda.
http://rssfeeds.floridatoday.com/~/764111933/0/brevard/news~Florida-executes-Brevard-death-row-inmate-James-Barnes-Recap/ Florida executes James Barnes | Recap