Jurors convict teen of trying to murder off-duty Miami-Dade officer

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Jurors on Friday made their call: They believed Willie Barney robbed and tried to murder an off-duty Miami-Dade police officer outside a Little Haiti church in September.

In a strange legal twist, however, the jury found that Barney did not use a firearm during the robbery of Wislyn Joseph, despite the officer clearly pinpointing the 19-year-old as the man who fired a shot point-blank at his chest.

After more than three hours of deliberations, six jurors convicted Joseph of the lesser crimes of attempted first-degree murder with an aggravated battery, and robbery with no firearm.

But the end result will be the same. Barney, who already has one felony armed-robbery conviction under his belt, most likely faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced Monday. And he is awaiting trial on multiple other robbery charges and one murder case.

“We’re disappointed that the jury didn’t find that he had a firearm,” said Miami-Dade prosecutor Richard Scruggs, who tried the case with Dawn Kulick. “But we’re satisfied that he will go prison for a long time.”

Barney’s defense attorney, Robert Barrar, called the jury’s decision a “cop-out” compromise.

“The state’s theory was that Willie Barney was the shooter. The jury said he didn’t have a gun,” Barrar said, adding: “Moral victories don’t count.”

The conviction comes eight months after Joseph was shot, point-blank, in the chest outside the Union Christian Bible Church. Prosecutors say Barney and two other men confronted Joseph as the officer had just finished installing an awning at the church for an upcoming service.

One of the men snatched a bracelet and two chains off Joseph.

The single bullet miraculously missed every vital organ and bone in Joseph’s body, exiting his back. As he was rushed to the hospital, Joseph gave emergency dispatchers a description of the gunmen and their red Pontiac, which was pulled over seven hours later.

Also charged with Barney: Travares Santiago and Dedrick Brown, who will go to trial later. Under the “principle” legal theory, all three can be convicted of the offenses even if only one fired the weapon.

Police say the trio embarked on a vicious two-county robbery spree that also included the murder of a man in Miami Gardens.

Investigators swabbed Joseph’s wrist and hand, where the gunman had grabbed his bracelet, and discovered a DNA match to Barney.

Defense attorney Robert Barrar argued that the DNA match wasn’t conclusive and he pointed out that it was Brown’s DNA, not Barney’s, on the handgun found in the suspects’ car.

Barrar had hinged his defense on the possibility that Joseph misidentified Barney as the gunman. He said Joseph initially called the attackers “light-skinned” black men.

The lawyer consistently invoked fair-complexioned Miami Heat star Shane Battier.

“It’s as plain as the skin tone on Willie’s face. This is not a fellow of the skin of Shane Battier,” Barrar said. “This is not the skin tone of a fellow like Michael Jackson who can change his skin tone over time.”

Scruggs shot back, saying the definition of skin tone is subjective.

“I know it’s a bad pun, but it’s a red herring,” Scruggs said. “It’s something to divert your attention from the facts.”

During the two-day trial, Joseph identified Barney as the robber who then shot him in the chest.

“This is a man who knows who shot him,” Scruggs told jurors Friday during closing arguments. “He will never forget that moment.”

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