TALLAHASSEE — 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.”
James Phillip Barnes, now 61, is scheduled to be executed Aug. 3 in the murder of Patricia “Patsy” Miller, according to documents posted Thursday on the Florida Supreme Court website.
If the execution is carried out, Barnes would be the fifth inmate to die by lethal injection this year in Florida. DeSantis did not issue a statement about the decision to sign the death warrant.
Barnes in 2005 admitted committing the murder after DNA testing linked him to the crime and as he was in prison for the 1997 murder of his wife, according to a 2007 decision by then-Brevard County Circuit Judge Lisa Davidson that sentenced Barnes to death.
Davidson’s 37-page decision gave a detailed account of the murder, saying Barnes on April 20, 1988, entered Miller’s condominium in Melbourne through a bedroom window. The judge wrote that Barnes raped Miller 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, then 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.”
The judge also wrote that in Barnes’ “detailed recounting of the murder, he stated unequivocally that he went there to murder Ms Miller and that it was not an afterthought. The defendant maintained control and worked calmly and coolly towards his goal throughout the entire time that he was in the victim’s home, which was approximately 45 to 60 minutes. The murder was carried out in a brutal and ruthless manner.”
Police quickly considered Barnes a suspect in the murder, but he denied involvement and gave a blood sample for possible DNA comparison, Davidson wrote. In 1998, as Barnes served a life sentence for murdering his wife, a sperm sample gathered from Miller’s body was re-submitted for DNA testing and matched Barnes.
After the match, Barnes refused to speak to police but contacted an assistant state attorney in 2005. That led to an interview in which Barnes detailed the Miller murder, according to Davidson’s decision. He pleaded guilty to the murder in 2006 and was sentenced by Davidson in 2007.
DeSantis signed the Barnes death warrant a week after Duane Owen was executed at Florida State Prison for the 1984 murder of a Palm Beach County woman.
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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.
By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida.