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People v. Barber





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Tazewell County; the Hon. Ivan L. Yontz, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Billie D. Barber, was found guilty of the murder and robbery of his ex-wife, Rhonda Barber, following a jury trial in the circuit court of Tazewell County. When the jury failed to impose the death penalty, the defendant was sentenced to natural life imprisonment.

On appeal, the defendant raises nine allegations of error seeking reversal of his convictions or, alternatively, a remand for a new trial, or modification of the sentence imposed.

The evidence adduced at trial consisted of the following.

Robert Yost, the decedent's father, testified that he was staying with his daughter for a few days over the holidays in January of 1982. On January 2 he last saw his daughter alive at noon. Before he left the house, he gave her $20 to buy groceries. When he returned at midnight, he found the house locked. He gained entry to the home by crawling through the front window. Inside he found his daughter's body, the victim of an apparent stabbing, on the floor of her bedroom. His two-year-old grandson, Justin, was alive and apparently unhurt although he had blood on his mouth and pillow. The police were notified immediately.

Gary Graff, a deputy sheriff, arrived and made a sketch of the crime scene. He noticed an area on the door to the decedent's bedroom where no fingerprint powder had adhered. The area was oval shaped, 12 to 15 inches in diameter, about five feet from the floor. He also observed a partial print on the inside frame of the bedroom door leading to where the victim was found. The print was approximately five feet from the floor.

Graff testified that he saw the defendant two days later, on January 4, 1982, at which time he was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, a blue jean jacket and what appeared to be a new pair of blue jeans. The defendant had scratches on his neck and hands and a swollen lip.

The defendant told Graff that he was living with his ex-wife and had last seen her on January 2, when she left to go shopping. He left the home on foot in the afternoon and obtained a ride from three unknown white males in a white Vega. The defendant maintained that he was with these individuals until 9 p.m., during which time they drank beer and smoked marijuana. At approximately 9 p.m. he went to the apartment of Rebecca Martinez and from there to the apartment of Mack Howell, where Rebecca Martinez was watching television.

Graff stated that he went to the Martinez apartment and obtained a pair of blue jeans which the defendant identified as his and which contained the blood of the decedent. The defendant claimed that the blood was from a cut Rhonda had sustained to her finger earlier in the day on January 2, when he had "playfully" taken a knife away from her. The defendant said that the scratches he had were received at a New Year's Eve party from another woman.

Graff recovered two $50 bills and four $20 bills wrapped in a towel from the Martinez apartment. The defendant told Graff that he and his ex-wife had been selling drugs from her home and were expecting a quarter pound of marijuana on the night of her death.

Detective Sergeant Eugene Maxwell testified that he took photographs of the defendant on January 4 depicting scratches on his face, neck, chest, arms and hands. The defendant told Maxwell during the questioning following his arrest on March 5, that "I've got something to say to you, and it might make you mad but I don't want to tell you how I did it until I talk to my lawyer." The defendant also told Maxwell that he had smoked a "dime's worth" of pot during the day and had smoked "a joint" approximately 10 minutes before he was picked up.

Patricia Orr, a forensic scientist, testified as to blood and hair samples submitted and that certain stains on the victim's sweater could have been a mixture of the defendant's and decedent's blood and that blood stains on the defendant's jeans could have been the victim's.

Susan Bruce, a grocery store clerk, testified that the defendant and his ex-wife came into the store on January 2 in order to cash Rhonda's public aid check.

Jackie Bridgmon and Margaret Pedigo saw an individual at approximately 8 p.m. on January 2, 1982, walking along the road in the sleet. Each identified a photograph of the defendant from a group of photographs as the man they saw.

Belinda Grandy testified that she was a neighbor of the decedent and had gone grocery shopping with her from 2 to 4 p.m. on January 2, 1982.

Dr. Paul Millikin, a pathologist, testified that an autopsy of the decedent indicated multiple bruises, a hairline skull fracture, multiple stab wounds, a large laceration across the throat, and that death resulted from the loss of blood from the multiple stab wounds to heart and lung. The decedent was 5 1/2 months pregnant.

Barbara Blackburn testified that she and her husband had been with the defendant and his ex-wife on New Year's Day and that there had been no arguments between them then. When the decedent's father arrived she saw the defendant go to the back of the house where he would not be seen.

Frank Blackburn, Barbara's husband, testified that the defendant had both marijuana, "pot," and cocaine in the house and that he saw the defendant cutting the cocaine into "dimes" and placing it in tin foil packets. He also testified that when he saw the defendant on January 5, he observed a scratch on his neck which he had not seen on New Year's Day.

Mack Howell testified that the defendant came to his apartment at approximately 9 p.m. on January 2 and that he appeared nervous. The defendant's hair and clothing were wet.

Rebecca Martinez testified that on January 3, she purchased a pair of blue jeans for the defendant at his request and that he paid her with a $20 bill. The defendant wanted Martinez to buy the jeans because she ...

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