This week for the True Crime Wednesday feature, I am recapping and reacting to season 2 episode 2 of the I am a Killer series. I will first recap the episode and all the important details, then I will provide my reactions and impressions after. Content Warning: child abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and violence/murder.
Since the reintroduction of the death penalty in the US in 1976, more than 8,000 people have been sentenced to death for murder.
Episode 2 – Overkill
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
Secil Schodroski had received a phone call that her child’s father had been at a local restaurant for over 24-hours just sitting in a booth. She went down there and when she approached him, he told her to leave and gave her an evil look. She didn’t know what else she should do, so she left.
Hours later, David Barnett stabbed his adoptive grandparents to death. No motive had ever been established.
POTOSI CORRECTIONAL CENTER, WASHINGTON COUNTY, MISSOURI
David was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. David was born in St. Louis, Missouri to a mother that didn’t want to be a mother. David was ultimately left in the care of a friend of his mother, Robert. Robert was an alcohol, who took to beating and molesting David while he was in his care. Robert was also in and out of jail, leaving David to fend for himself a lot. David was about four or five years old when the Department of Family Services got involved and removed him from Robert’s care. During a scheduled visit between Robert and David, Robert kidnapped David and fled for a time. Once Robert was tracked down and arrested David never saw him again.
At 6 years old, David was fostered by the Reames family.
David loved with being placed with the Reames family. He felt like the mother, Rita, was the first person he could call mother. David experienced nothing but a loving environment while with the Reames. However, David’s time with the Reames’ was not top last. Rita had received the opportunity to study abroad and they could not take David with them.
After 6 months with the Reames, David was returned to the foster care system. At age 8, he was placed in the home of a man name John Barnett.
According to David, John was a computer teacher, average yet intellectual, and single. The one thing that David like about John was that John didn’t touch him. When they went out to dinner one evening, John asked David if he wanted to be adopted. David was ecstatic and overjoyed to be wanted. One of the happiest days of David’s childhood was going to court to have the adoption finalized. The neighborhood where David lived with John was a middle-class area compared to the poverty ridden areas David had previous been in as a small child. A few months after being adopted, David had his first experience that made him question his environment. David would receive beating for not meeting John’s expectations for academic performance and such. After beating David, John would cradle him and provide comfort. Slowly John would pull David closer, nibble on his ear, and this would make David uncomfortable. The physical beating slowing increased in frequency until they were happening daily. David describes about how he would dissociate while John would touch him.
After David’s 9th birthday, John Barnett adopted another two boys. The youngest, Eric, immediately looked up to David.
David thought that Eric was charming and liked having him around. David noticed that Eric was very conscious of his two front teeth. David noticed that John had started behaving the same way towards Eric as he had towards David. David felt like he had robbed Eric of his childhood, since he was the oldest and suppose to protect them. But David also felt glad that it wasn’t him for a change.
John Barnett’s parents, Clifford and Leona, lived on the same street as their son.
Every Sunday John and the boys would go over to his parent’s house for a family dinner. David loved Leona, since she was warm and welcoming. David learned to cook from Leona. Clifford was stern and they feared how he would react to things. Clifford liked to hit the boys on the back the head. Clifford wore a class ring similar to one that John wore, and when that ring would hit the back of the boys’ heads it would remind David of John hitting him. David believes that Leona was the only one of the adult capable of love.
David lived with John Barnett until he was 18. He moved out after an argument.
David lived with friends and on couches where he could find them. He never explicitly told his friends what was happening at home but he thinks they had an idea. Leona figured out that David was no longer living at home and asked him earnestly how he was doing. David didn’t feel like he could tell her the truth because any time he made a comment that was negative towards John, Leona would get defensive of John. David feared rejection from Leona so he never pushed too far with revealing the truth.
On the morning of February 4th, 1996, David Barnett let himself into his grandparents’ house. He waited for them to return from church.
David was asleep when they returned to the house. The last thing that David remembers is talking with Leona and Clifford. He does not remember attacking either of them. The next thing that David recalls is standing looking at a wall. Clifford was on the ground to David’s left. There was no blood on his hands, so his brain wasn’t registering where it was coming from. Once David looked around he saw Leona laying on the floor down the hallway. As he stepped over her, he could tell that they were both dead.
Within 24 hours, David Barnett confessed to police that he had committed both murders.
The autopsy records revealed the extreme violent nature of Leona and Clifford’s deaths. Multiple knives had been taken from the kitchen and used in the attack. David has no recollection of grabbing any of the knives from the kitchen. It is believed that David went into a manic rage or state of overkill. It explains the lapse in memory from the event.
In March 1997, David Barnett went on trial on two counts of first-degree murder.
ST. LOUIS COUNTY COURTS
The trial took about 10 days. Andy was the jury foreman for David’s 1997 trial. Andy felt intimidated by the charges that David was facing. The brutality that the jury heard, left an impression. The jury had heard that five knives had been used. Each victim had been stabbed north of 20 times. To impose the death penalty all 12 jurors had to come to a unanimous decision. Andy was the last juror to agree to sentence David to death.
On March 21st, 1997, the jury recommended that David Barnett be sentenced to death.
Rita Reames remembers David being in their household from the time he was six-and-a-half years old to just after his seventh birthday. He was a good kid that was never violent. However, she could tell that with his challenges, if he was placed in the wrong kind of environment, he would not do well.
When Rita took a job overseas, David was returned to the care of social services. Rita heard nothing about David for 13 years. Until she was contacted about the murders.
Rita was shocked when she learned that David had killed two people. It was even harder for her to believe when she learned that they were nice people that had done David no harm.
Rita followed every step of David’s trial.
Rita sat through the entire punishment phase of the trial. She could not believe that David’s lawyer didn’t present any background information about the abuse that David had suffered. The lawyer’s reason when questioned about this tactic was that she felt it didn’t make David look good to the jury.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
Jason Kingdon grew up with David when he was living with John Barnett. At first it seemed like a cool family to Jason, a dad with three sons that was a soccer coach. About six months into knowing David, Jason started to notice that the boys would lock themselves away from John. They did what they could to avoid contact with him, even going to the extreme of urinating out their windows so as not to leave their room. The environment at David’s grandparents’ house was more welcoming and relaxed. They would often go over there and milk and cookies would be put out for them. Jason couldn’t get over the polarizing atmospheres of the two houses.
At 15 years old, Jason and David discovered a polaroid photo in John Barnett’s bedside drawer.
The photo that they found did not include the faces of the two people but from what they saw they could tell that it was a young prepubescent boy and John. John was identifiable by the class ring that he always wore. In the photo John was holding on to the young boy’s gentials. Jason and David walked to the local police station to show them the photo they found. David slid the photo to a detective, who instructed Jason to leave the room. The detective informed David that they would not pursue charges against John and gave the photo back. David was angry, and Jason says that David was never the same after that day.
In 2017, John Barnett died of natural causes. No charges of sexual abuse were ever brought against him.
Fred had been friends with John for 49 years when John passed away. Fred describes John as witty, and great to be around. John had worked in information technology and made his way up to director when he left that career field to teach students, many disadvantaged, at the local high school. John was also a school bus driver and was awarded Driver of the Year several times. Fred is unaware of any unbecoming behavior on John’s part.
Secil had been a student of John’s at the local high school. Secil came from a toxic home environment and ended up staying with the Barnett’s when she was 14. While living with the Barnetts, Secil never saw John act inappropriately with the boy but she acknowledges that she was treated differently. After the boys would go to sleep, John would rub on her, kiss on her and place his hands all over her. At the time she thought that it was okay because she loved him, but now she sees that he was a pedophile.
Secil lived at John Barnett’s house for a summer. During this time, she grew close to his adopted son, David.
Secil and David had started hanging out and spending time together. Secil wasn’t on birth control and they eventually ended up expecting a baby together. John was upset that Secil was pregnant and offered to pay for her to get an abortion. Secil feels that John was angry and jealous that she was with David and not him.
After Secil gave birth, she and David Barnett moved in together.
David was proud to be a father, he loved his son and wanted to be a part of all of it. However, with young love, things did not work out no matter how hard they worked at it. David couldn’t find the balance between being young and being a parent. The burden was left on Secil to manage things. Secil didn’t know how to handle things, so she pushed David, because she couldn’t deal with it anymore.
Within a year, David had murdered his grandparents and been sentenced to death. 6 years after David’s trial, federal layers began a review of his death sentence.
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
Eliabeth Carlyle, defense attorney, believes that before a jury can ask a state to execute a person that they need to hear a person’s story. When she looked at David’s case, his lawyers had never told his story to the jury. She was David’s attorney during the last stages of his case.
Elizabeth Carlyle’s team uncovered previously unseen records of childhood abuse.
Elizabeth shows a report from September 1992, where two boys are describing the physical and sexual abuse they are experiencing. There were plenty of warning signs and red flags that were never addressed. Elizabeth believes that David was let down by everyone that mattered. People that should have seen the red flags and intervened.
In 2003, Carlyle’s team appealed against David’s death sentence. They argued that the murders weren’t premeditated. David Barnett had been in prison for 22 years when the courts came to a decision.
Jason had been at the food court in the mall when he received the news that David’s sentence had been commuted.
On March 15th, 2019, David’s sentence was commuted to life without parole. Since David’s resentencing, he has renewed his friendship with Jason.
When Jason first started visiting David, David would get emotional. Jason doesn’t believe even David knows why it was happening.
Although David does not recall committing the murders he has revealed the reason he went to his grandparents’ house that day.
According to Jason, David went over to his grandparents’ house that day to tell them the truth about what was happening with John. Jason believes that once David told them the truth, they reacted poorly and rejected David’s claims. This caused David to snap and every wound that he inflicted on them is what he wanted to do to John.
POTOSI CORRECTIONAL CENTER
David believes that he is where he deserves to be. He knows that what he did was wrong, even if he does not remember doing it.
3 months after his first interview, David Barnett agreed to answer further questions.
David still cannot recall all the details of that day. What he does remember is going over there and telling them that he could not go back to living with John. David believes that he was doing his best to tell them what had been happening with the language he had at the time. David thinks of his grandparents daily, he believes that Leona would forgive him for what happened. David doesn’t hate John, he still has love for him. He understands that John had his own problems and needed his own help.
Since David’s resentencing, he had faced the prospect of life behind bars. He is now appealing, in the hope of parole.
David acknowledges that when his sentence was first commuted, he had a hard time. He lacked a connection and support system from people on the outside and that is critical for a prisoners outlook. As time has gone on and he has been able to reconnect with important people from his past, his outlook has improved and the thought of spending the rest of his life in prison is not the torment it originally was.
The following people were interviewed for this episode, they are credited in the order of their credited appearance:
- Secil Schodroski, David’s ex-girlfriend
- Andrew Dazey, Jury foreman
- Rita Reames, David’s former foster mother
- Jason Kingdon, David’s best friend
- Fred Domke, John’s best friend
My opinion section:
I had a lot of feelings throughout this episode. The fact that David had been repeatedly victimized and let down by people that were supposed to protect him, make me extremely angry. How can the justice system be fair when victims of abuse don’t have that taken into account? People who have lived through abuse and as well as others with PTSD act and behave in manners that are not typical of others. I am also appalled by a certain demographic of individuals that tend to dismiss victims because it’s not how they see things. Just because a person never shows you their ugly side, does not mean that one doesn’t exist. A person may act like an angel or saint to you while abuse someone behind closed doors. I find this treatment of victims and the silencing of them to be gross and violent. I believe that David could be rehabilitated and returned to society with the right support system and therapy. The system is so broken that I believe, we need a serious overhaul and a lot of decriminalizing happening. I also think there needs to be serious expansion and access to mental health services and alternative forms of therapy. I hope to hear of more good things happening for David as he seems to have gotten his life together behind bars.
Tomorrow for the Writing Thursday feature, I am presenting an original scene. Next week for the Missing Person Wednesday feature, I am highlighting the Doe Network profile of Mark Daniel Aguilar. Until then keep sleuthing the cases; Nerd out!
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