Jury Acquits Barnette Of Sexual Abuse Charges
Lawrence Donald Barnette Jr., 46, of the Northern Regional Jail, was acquitted of six sexually-based offenses after a jury of his peers found him innocent Monday in Wetzel County Circuit Court.
Barnette had been charged by the May 2014 grand jury with three counts of first-degree sexual assault and three counts of sexual abuse by a custodian. These offenses allegedly occurred between January 1, 2000, and February 13, 2002, when the victim was 11 years old or younger.
During opening statements, Special Prosecuting Attorney Carl “Worthy” Paul argued that the victim in the case had been living with her mother, brother, and mother’s boyfriend. At same time, the girl began living with her mother, brother, and her mother’s new boyfriend-Barnette. After a while, Barnette, “starts doing things to her that are sexual,” Paul argued, stating that the mother did not believe the victim when she told her mother. Paul stated that the victim told about the crime again when she is 12 and living with her grandmother. “Nothing happens . . . you are baffled by that,” Paul explained.
“Fast-forward a few more years. You are 19 and an adult. You want to know why nothing has happened. You write a letter to police, and that’s what brings us here today.”
Defense Attorney Brent Clyburn argued that “In the period between February 2002 and up until today, as Paul noted, nothing happened . . . I’ve got a problem with that in as so much as this isn’t about repressed memories. This isn’t about somebody in the present who says, ‘Hey, I remember these things that happened,’ and then goes and tells somebody. No, this is about somebody saying things happened, investigations happening, and then from those investigations, nothing really occurs.”
Clyburn continued: “So the question becomes, did the government think nothing happened, or did they sit on their hands? That’s the question we hope you ask.”
Clyburn argued that the time period during when the alleged offenses occurred was a seven-month period. “It appears sometime in the Spring of 2001, Mr. Barnette reconnected with a girl he knew in high school. That woman has two children . . . Soon after dating Donald, the mother and her children all moved in with Donald. Soon after that, July 2001, this is just a couple months after . . . there’s a report, and the child is questioned, about whether or not Donald has been acting untoward toward her, acting out sexually toward her . . . at that point, she says nothing happened. She further says, ‘He’s nice to me now and he buys me stuff.'”
Clyburn stated that in February 2002, the children are removed from the home. He argues that this is because of filthy conditions in the home, not because Barnette abused the child.
“When she’s about 12, she will go to the police and make a statement. She’s removed from her mom and adopted at this point, and she makes a statement . . . So four years in the custody of the government, and adopted . . . she wants to make a statement. With a CPS case worker she goes to the police in December 2005,” Clyburn noted.
He further instructs the jury to “pay particular attention to details . . . She gives those details then and details later. Pay attention to the difference in details. There are pretty big ones.” Clyburn added that at this point in time, “nothing happens.”
“Does the question become, nothing happened because (West Virginia State Police Sgt. Jeff) Shriver didn’t see enough to charge?”
Clyburn noted that in 2013 the alleged victim, with a CPS worker, goes to the police and talks about the events again. He noted that a warrant is issued “and that gets the process going . . . That’s when Barnette gets taken into custody, he’s indicted, and we are here considering the matter.”
First to take the stand on behalf of the state was Carla Wade, a former CPS worker involved in the case. Wade testified that eventually, when she worked with the victim’s family, there became allegations against Barnette. Wade testified when questioned by Paul that disclosures about Barnette were made to her by the victim. “Was Mr. Barnette an adult at the time?” Paul asked. Wade responded in the affirmative.
When questioned by Clyburn, Wade stated that she became concerned around July 2001 about mistreatment from Barnette as the victim’s brother was having a lot of problems, “and the school was contacting me a lot and that came about to removing them from the home.”
“Do you recall a time when a Deputy Terry Long and a worker with the department, Tonya Vancamp, went to see (the victim) to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by Mr. Barnett?” Clyburn questioned. Wade responded that she could barely remember, that she couldn’t say when Long and Vancamp interviewed the victim. Wade further testified that no investigation was put into place, but by the time February 2002 came around “there was enough reason to believe, so that’s why I removed the children from the home.”
Clyburn later questioned Wade about the interview the alleged victim had with Sgt. Shriver in 2005. Wade testified that she thought the victim was “ready to tell her full story.”
“So she hadn’t said anything up until 2005?” Clyburn questioned.
“She was a little girl, and I was actually more concerned that time about the brother. It wasn’t until a little bit later that she actually began telling me,” Wade noted.
“Do you recall what she told Sergeant Shriver in December of 2005?” Clyburn questioned.
“I cannot remember the interview very well at all,” Wade responded.
“Do you recall whether she said that Mr. Barnette sexually abused her?”
“I think she did,” Wade noted, “but I can’t remember the interview very well . . . that interview isn’t sticking in my head well. I just can’t recall very much about that interview.”
“Do you recall what if anything occurred after that interview. Did anyone keep in contact with you?” Clyburn questioned.
“I believe at the time, the statement wasn’t strong enough at the time,” Wade noted.
“So there were some inconsistencies in her statement that caused Mr. Shriver not want to investigate the case?” Clyburn asked.
“Possibly,” Wade noted, adding, “What she told me has always been consistent.”
“Okay, but you weren’t sure if what she told Sergeant Shriver was consistent with what she told you.”
“I just can’t remember that interview,” Wade noted. “I’m sorry. I’m trying. I can’t remember that interview very well.”
When questioned by Paul again, Wade noted that she had concerns of sexual abuse because of problems with the victim’s brother. She noted that based on sexual abuse training she had just finished, the signs led to there possibly being sexual abuse.
“Mr. Paul asked you about some issues that the brother was having, and some issues that you thought were related to him being sexually abused,” Clyburn later asked. “Isn’t it true when you first removed them from the home that the allegations were that the boy was sexually abused by his father. Isn’t that accurate?”
Wade noted that she did not recall that at all.
“Do you recall the boy’s father being a registered sex offender at the time the boy was removed from the home?” Wade noted that she did not recall that, as it has been many years ago.
The alleged victim then took the stand and noted that she first came to know Barnette when her mother dated him. She stated she might have been a little older than seven at the time.
“When you were still living with your mother and Mr. Barnette, did there come a time when you told your mother something he had done?” The alleged victim stated that she had and that she told her mother that Barnette had been sexually abusing her. Furthermore, the alleged victim also reiterated a time when Barnette had sexually assaulted her in the creek. The alleged victim noted that her mother did nothing as she thought she was referring “to someone else and not him.”
The alleged victim also recollected several other times Barnette had allegedly violated her.
She stated that she did not know why nothing was done until now. “I’m not sure why he didn’t get in trouble, but since nothing happened, I gave up on it. I just decided to try again, because I was tired of being scared.”
She further noted that the experience ruined her life. She said she can’t have relationships with anybody, and that she was on antidepressants for a while. She stated that she went to counseling and that she can’t be in the dark by herself. “I hate being alone,” she added, becoming emotional.
When questioned by Clyburn, the alleged victim stated that the case came up again in 2013 because she went to the state police with her aunt. “I asked my aunt if there was any way to open my case back up, so she helped me.”
Clyburn further questioned the alleged victim concerning discrepancies in the details of the statements she gave to Sergeant Shriver and the statement she gave in 2013 when the case was reopened. The details dealt with exactly how Barnette had allegedly abused her.
Terry Long of the prosecutor’s office was later called to the stand by the defense. Long testified that he visited the alleged victim’s home in July 2001 with a CPS worker who requested that he go along with her for a visit. Long stated that the alleged victim did not disclose any information at all that he could recall. He stated that he was generally the reporter and just took down what he heard.
When questioned by Special Prosecutor Paul, Long noted that at the time of the 2001 interview, the mother was present and he thought Barnette was also present as well. “I can’t recall if he was outside of the house when we were questioning the children,” Long stated.
Tonya Vancamp, when questioned by Clyburn, also testified that during the July 2001 interview the alleged victim denied being sexually mistreated by Barnette. “She actually said she really liked him; he’d buy her things,” Vancamp noted, adding that the then-child said Barnette took her to get ice cream.
Barnette himself also took the stand and testified that he did not know of the allegations against him until October 2001. Barnette claimed that the alleged victim stated that she had made up the allegations because she was mad Barnette had not taken her on a business trip. He stated he did not kick the family out of the home because “they had nowhere to go.” Barnette stated that the kids were taken from the house in February 2002 and afterward, he never saw them again. He denied ever sexually abusing the children.
It was noted that Barnette was picked up by law enforcement in North Carolina. Barnette testified that he was on the road a lot between 2005 and 2013 because he travels with the carnival. It was noted that Barnette was served a governor’s warrant and he at first resisted coming back to West Virginia.
After testimony from Barnette, Wade was brought back to the stand. She testified that each time she talked to the alleged victim she was told the same thing, in that Barnette sexually abused her.
During closing arguments, Paul argued that Barnette acknowledged that “it occurred in Wetzel County, that it occurred between dates specified, and that the girl was a child between eight and nine years old . . . he’s acknowledged he’s cohabitating with her mother. What he’s denied is the specific sex acts.”
“Mr. Long testified . . . There was testimony brought out by Clyburn that on the victim’s first statement, she said nothing happened.” Paul noted that Long had testified that the mother was present at the time, hinting that the girl was afraid to talk about the crimes in front of her mother.
During his arguments, Clyburn stated that the case is not an easy one “because it involves a very taboo subject matter . . . sex. No one wants to hear about sex.” Clyburn further likened himself to Barnette’s shield. “I like to think of myself as a shield against an overreaching judgement. When people charge him, they want to take away his life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. My job is to make sure they do it right. Now let’s talk about what the government did in this case . . .”
Clyburn argued that Paul tried to “put you in the shoes of an eight year old girl who had been sexually abused. I’m going to ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a criminal defendant who is charged with sexual offenses against him, and he gets evidence against him that was presented today.”
“I want you to ask, is that enough?” Clyburn asked. “First we heard from a lady that used to work at the CPS, worked for the DHHR . . . Ms. Wade would say that her reasoning for moving the children from the home in February 2002 was because of these allegations of sexual abuse by Mr. Barnette. When did we ever hear of any investigation? We don’t hear about that, until three years later; 2005 is when we first have a recorded incident of the child saying, ‘Hey, he did these things.’ In 2013 she goes back again, and says kind of the same thing but not really.”
“What did the police do? You know, let’s recall when we had Sergeant Shriver, Sergeant Collins asked why they drug their feet . . . Wait, there were no police here today to testify.”
“Could it be that the case was not pursued because there was nothing to pursue? I think you have to ask yourself that question.”
During his final say in closing arguments, Prosecutor Paul stated that there would not be complete justice for the alleged victim as “justice for her would be restoration of her innocence.” However, he stated that justice would be an honest verdict.
After an approximate hour and 30 minutes of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict of innocence against Barnette. He was then released from his former bond.