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Two sons suffer two fates

If you heard the two mothers talk, you would swear they were describing the same son: bright, funny, caring and clean-cut with lots of friends.

Patti Barnes stood outside a courtroom Friday morning, paging through snapshots of her son, Larry. Here he was in a boat on blue water. Here he was as a child, wearing a cowboy hat.

"Our family was just like everybody else," she said, dabbing at tears.

Marti O'Loughlin couldn't come to court Friday. She couldn't stand to be there. Instead, she sent a videotape on which she talked about her son, Billy, calling him "a pretty ordinary kid."

The little cowboy and the ordinary kid grew to be young men in their early 20s. They met 15 months ago while working at the Hurricane, a popular St. Petersburg Beach restaurant, and quickly became friends.

When Larry Barnes needed a place to stay, Billy O'Loughlin invited him to sleep at his place. When they got off work the night of Dec. 10, 1992, they wound up at the same bar and later left together in Billy's Mustang.

By sunrise one of them lay dead, horribly slain along with his 72-year-old great aunt.

Friday morning, Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer sentenced the other one to life in prison.

The judge couldn't help remarking on what an unusual case it was. Most murders involve defendants who from birth have little chance for a future _ people mired in poverty, dropouts who learned their values from parents who were prostitutes and junkies. Often the victims' stories are similarly squalid.

But this time both victim and killer came from good homes and seemed bound for a bright future.

"They both should have been healthy, productive members of society," Schaeffer said. "Now society will not get anything out of either one."

The party life

The scene at the Isla Key condominium was gory enough to shake veteran police and prosecutors: blood everywhere, and in the bedroom two bodies that had been there for days.

They had been stabbed with a pair of kitchen knives, driven in with such force that the wounds pierced them through and through. One thrust had severed the woman's spine.

In the bathroom, detectives found a bloody shirt, pants and shoes. In the bath, they found tiny droplets of blood, leading them to believe the killer coolly shucked his clothes and showered after his killing spree.

The clothes belonged to Patti Barnes' son, Larry. So did a bloody fingerprint on one doorknob. But last month, the 25-year-old Barnes swore to a jury he didn't kill anyone. He said he had merely found the bodies of Marti O'Loughlin's son, Billy, and Billy's great-aunt, Mary Elizabeth Dougan. But he didn't call police.

"I thought the very best thing I could do for myself was get out of there," he said in a flat voice. "Very quickly the thought of my friend being dead left my mind."

Instead, he said, he was thinking about drugs. The tall, red-haired, athletic Barnes was, in fact, a crack addict. Police believe Barnes killed O'Loughlin and Dougan while robbing them for drug money. He admitted buying crack after he left the bodies.

Assistant State Attorney Robert Heyman dubbed him "Party-Boy Larry," a man whose selfish pursuit of pleasure led him to commit a heinous crime.

"The world got to him," Mrs. Barnes agreed Friday. "The world, the drugs and the party life can pull you away from God."

The jury convicted Barnes of two counts of first-degree murder. But after hearing Mrs. Barnes pour out her heart about her love for her son, about how she blamed herself for what he had become, they said Judge Schaeffer should not sentence him to death.

"That's what spared you," the judge told Barnes on Friday. "The jury said, "That decent family, how will they be able to handle it if we send their son to the electric chair?' "

Mr. Manipulator

Schaeffer still had a choice to make Friday. She could give Barnes two concurrent life sentences, so he could be paroled in 25 years, or she could make the terms consecutive, so he would not get out for 50 years.

Several relatives of the victims asked her to keep Barnes in prison as long as possible. They said Dougan, known as Aunt Betty, was a dedicated social worker, a kind woman who raised O'Loughlin's father as if he were her son. They talked about how much they missed O'Loughlin.

Mrs. O'Loughlin's tape made the most eloquent statement.

"My mistake, I suppose, was to raise a trusting and considerate child," Mrs. O'Loughlin said. Otherwise, he would not have befriended an "evil, defiant killer."

Since her son's death, she said, her life has been "filled with horror and grief, loneliness and despair, day after day of relentless sadness. I try so hard not to think about that night, not to think about Billy fighting for his life. As hard as I try, the thoughts return. At these moments, the desperation and helplessness are overwhelming."

At the end of the tape, she mentioned her son would have turned 24 on Sunday. By that point, most of the courtroom spectators were overcome with emotion. But one man seemed unmoved, and the judge glared at him.

"Everyone in this room feels remorse," Schaeffer said, wagging a finger at Barnes. "The only person this didn't affect was you."

The judge said she had watched him closely throughout his trial and concluded he was "Mr. Manipulator."

While Mrs. O'Loughlin's tape played, the judge said, Barnes was busy reading over a motion for a new trial, concerned only about his own future, still trying to beat the system.

"You're going to have a lot of time to consider your next move," she told him. She sentenced him to stay in prison at least 50 years and promised that if she is around in 2044, "I'm going to try to see to it that you never see the light of day again."

Still, Barnes' family clings to some hope for his future.

"From everything they say about Billy and Aunt Betty, they're in heaven now," said Barnes' sister, Tammy. "Larry has a long time to get closer to God. If we all end up there together, that's all that matters."