Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a death warrant for an inmate who in 1988 raped, murdered and set on fire a woman in her Brevard County condominium — a crime that a circuit judge said was “committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.”

Florida Death Row Inmate Executed 35 Years After He Raped, Brutally Murdered Woman

More than 35 years after he raped and murdered a woman in her Melbourne condominium, James Phillip Barnes was executed Thursday evening at Florida State Prison.
James Phillip Barnes (FDLE)

More than 35 years after he raped and murdered a woman in her Melbourne condominium, James Phillip Barnes was executed Thursday evening at Florida State Prison.

Barnes, 61, was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m., becoming the fifth Florida inmate to die by lethal injection this year.

In a somewhat unusual move, Barnes did not pursue last-ditch legal appeals to try to prevent the execution after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a death warrant on June 22.

Kayla McLaughlin, communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections, said Barnes did not request a last meal and did not have any visitors before the execution. He did not make a final statement while strapped to a gurney.

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The execution procedure started at 6:01 p.m., with 20 witnesses, along with reporters and Department of Corrections officials, watching through a large window. Barnes could be seen breathing heavily within two minutes, but otherwise did not appear to move.

Barnes was sentenced to death in the April 20, 1988, murder of Patricia “Patsy” Miller in her Melbourne condominium. Barnes in 2005, admitted committing the murder after DNA testing linked him to the crime. At the time of his confession, he was in prison for the 1997 murder of his wife, Linda, according to a 2007 ruling by then-Brevard County Circuit Judge Lisa Davidson that sentenced Barnes to death.

After the execution, Andrew Miller, Patsy Miller’s brother, thanked Brevard County law-enforcement officials who he said “stayed by us for 35 years.”

He said nobody “should live in fear in the safety of their own homes. We do.”

“After today, less fear, but the fear still exists,” Miller said.

Davidson’s 2007 ruling said Barnes entered Miller’s condominium through a bedroom window, raped her twice, tried to strangle her with the belt from her bathrobe and then bludgeoned her in the head with a hammer.

Barnes, who said he did not know Miller, set fire to a bed where the woman was nude and bound to try to conceal the crime, the judge wrote. A medical examiner determined that Miller died from blunt-force trauma to the head.

“She knew he was going to kill her for the duration of her conscious state, and she was unable to resist due to being bound and overpowered by the defendant,” Davidson wrote in the Dec. 13, 2007, decision. “Patricia Miller suffered, over a period of time, a terrifying ordeal culminating in a horrifying death at the defendant’s hands.”

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Typically, attorneys for condemned inmates file a flurry of appeals in state and federal courts after death warrants are signed. But Brevard County Circuit Judge Steve Henderson issued an order June 28 that said Barnes dismissed “all postconviction proceedings.”

Henderson wrote that he “conducted an extensive colloquy” with Barnes during a June 27 court hearing and found him “not only competent, but also intelligent.”

“At the hearing on June 27, 2023, the defendant was adamant that he did not want any postconviction proceedings to occur, that he wanted to accept responsibility for his actions and proceed to execution (his death) without any delay,” the judge wrote. “The defendant specifically told the court that he ‘did not want to delay justice’ and he wanted to ‘see justice to be served in this case.’”

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, asked DeSantis last week to stay the execution and commute Barnes’ death sentence to life without parole, while acknowledging that his “heinous and violent crimes have brought immense grief and suffering to the families and friends of his victims and the wider community.”

“Mr. Barnes’ willing acceptance of death, the punishment put in place by the justice system, does not absolve the state from bringing it about,” Michael Sheedy, the conference’s executive director, wrote in a July 24 letter to DeSantis. “Simply put, no one should be executed in our modern penal system, even if they willingly accept it. The alternative punishment of life in prison without parole is a severe penalty that still provides closure to victims and protects society. It is more humane and ceases to perpetuate the cycle of violence that began by the sufferings inflicted on him in his youth, which included physical and sexual abuse.”

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DeSantis signed the Barnes death warrant a week after Duane Owen was executed for the 1984 murder of a Palm Beach County woman.

The state on May 3 executed Darryl Barwick in the 1986 murder of a woman in her Panama City apartment. That followed the April 12 execution of Louis Gaskin in the 1989 murders of a couple in Flagler County. The state on Feb. 23 put to death Donald David Dillbeck, who murdered a woman in 1990 during a carjacking in a Tallahassee mall parking lot.

Dillbeck was the first person executed since Gary Ray Bowles was put to death by lethal injection in August 2019 for a 1994 murder in Jacksonville.

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