Jury awards $3M in Barkers death Victims family can only get quarter of damages due to Va. statutory cap
Convicted murderer Jody Lynn Bradley should pay his 16-year-old victim’s family $3 million for wrongful death, a seven-person jury ruled Thursday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court.
In reality, Brendon Manning Barker’s parents and sister will get, at most, about a quarter of that.
That is because Virginia has a statutory cap of $300,000 on punitive damages, Judge Dennis L. Hupp said after the jury — who weren’t told of the limit — had left.
Jurors awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages to be split among Barker’s mother, Janeen Johannsen; sister, Ryan Barker; and father, Gene Barker Jr.
Bradley, who wasn’t in court Thursday, shot Barker in the head on Jan. 16, 2009.
A jury convicted him in August 2009 of second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, sentencing him to 12 years in prison — a sentence whose leniency outraged Barker’s family.
On Thursday, Barker’s survivors emotionally recounted how their lives have been impacted.
Bradley’s daughter, Sarah, 18, was the first witness. Her father had forbidden the teens from seeing each other, but she testified that she talked Barker into coming over.
The couple went to the attic to watch a movie while her father worked in the field.
Sarah described how her father blocked the attic door.
He then opened the door, pushed her aside and began searching for the boy with a flashlight, she said.
“Brendon was lying on the ground, and he shoots him right in the face,” Sarah said.
She kept calling his name, getting no answer. She tried shaking him.
“He wouldn’t wake up, he wouldn’t look at me, he wouldn’t talk to me,” Sarah said.
Sarah found her father in the kitchen, cleaning his guns. She called 911, and ran outside, afraid her father would kill her, too.
Attorney Aaron Caruso asked Barker’s stepfather, Jimmy Johannsen — who, like Sarah, cried throughout his testimony — how much his wife’s condition has improved since the shooting.
“Not at all,” he said. “I think it gets harder over time the more you realize that Brendon is not going to come back. He’s not going to walk in the door. She’s definitely not the Janeen that I knew before. She cries every day. She told me that she doesn’t want to be here anymore.”
Mrs. Johannsen described getting a call from one of her son’s friends, who’d heard Barker had been shot and killed.
An emergency dispatcher wouldn’t release any information, so she and her husband drove to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, where eventually a deputy told them it was true.
“And, [the deputy] just told us to go home,” Mrs. Johannsen said, sobbing. “That’s it, just go home. I remember not wanting to leave the hospital, not wanting to go home. Where’s my son? I couldn’t imagine going home, [I] still haven’t found my son. … My son has not come home. And, I wait and I wait. And every night, he doesn’t come home.”
As Mrs. Johannsen’s sobs grew harder and harder, Hupp called a recess.
Her anguished cries filled the courtroom as the jurors were led out.
When court returned to session, Mrs. Johannsen tearfully, but calmly, recounted how her son’s face became distorted because his skull had been fragmented — “The funeral director tried for eight hours to prepare Brendon so that we could see him.”
Ultimately, the boy had to be cremated without his family getting to see him.
“My child walked out the door and I haven’t seen him again,” Mrs. Johannsen said. “I’m destroyed. Brendon was part of me, and he’s dead. I’m dead, except my heart won’t stop beating. And, I pray every night that it does. But, it betrays me every day.”
She has nightmares of “blood splattered everywhere,” of her son as a young child being bricked into the wall, of his being abducted, murdered — making her not want to fall asleep.
Gene Barker testified that he and his son remained close in the first several years after he and Mrs. Johannsen separated in 2000, but Barker had cut off contact with him a couple of years before his death.
That was something Gene Barker was confident would right itself with time.
“I never stopped loving him,” he said. “He was always just a bright spot in my life. I wish I could’ve traded places with him.”
Ryan Barker, Brendon Barker’s sister, knew as soon as she saw her mother’s face that January night that her brother was dead.
“My mom collapsed on the floor and we cried all night long,” she testified, in tears herself.
Ryan Barker said she has seen photos of her brother dead.
“Every time I close my eyes, I see my brother’s face, and I see that bullet hole in his forehead and I see that look on his face, and he was so surprised, like he was going to say something, like, ‘Please,’ or ‘No.’
“Not only have I lost my brother, I’ve lost my mother in a lot of ways. She talks about suicide. I talk about suicide. I know that my mom is in agony every day, and she cries every day.”
In his closing arguments, Caruso told jurors life would return to normal for them and himself, but not for Barker’s family.
“Time heals all wounds is a lie,” he said. “Time is no magician. Time simply passes.”
Bradley’s attorney, Gene Hart, made a motion to reduce the punitive damages to zero, since Mrs. Johannsen didn’t specify an amount in her lawsuit. Hupp hasn’t ruled on that motion.
Her suit sought $500,000 in compensatory damages, plus any punitive damages the court saw fit to award.
By Sally Voth – email@example.com
Published on 24/09/2010 12:47:06