Even though he was never charged with a crime in those cases, jurors will be allowed to hear that an Avondale man was arrested in connection with two prior homicides when he goes to trial next month over the killing of a Kenner couple found shot to death in their bedroom in 2016.
While Shaun Barnett, 30, was not charged in the earlier cases, Judge Lee Faulkner of 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna ruled last week that prosecutors with Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s office can use Barnett’s arrest warrants, interview transcripts from Kenner Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators, and JPSO reports.
The state’s motion to get the evidence admitted was filed under seal, but a defense response indicates prosecutors intend to show Barnett confessed to the earlier, unspecified incidents and that they are applicable to the killings of Dawn Scott and Raynell Kimbrough on April 4, 2016.
Scott, 28, and Kimbrough, 31, were found shot to death in the bedroom of their Idaho Avenue apartment in the same room as their 2-week-old daughter, who was found alive. Scott’s two boys, age 10 and 2, were also in the home.
Barnett has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, which can carry the death penalty, though Connick’s office is seeking only life in prison without parole.
Defense attorney Miles Swanson argued unsuccessfully to Faulkner Dec. 19 that cases cited by the state as precedents for use of the evidence about earlier crimes are inherently different because they concerned incidents where there were convictions, guilty pleas or direct evidence tying the defendant to the crimes in question.
“The only evidence to suggest Mr. Barnett committed the prior bad acts is the inherently suspect and wholly unreliable word of a jailhouse snitch who received a favorable plea deal from the state in exchange for his testimony,” Swanson wrote in court filings, noting that Barnett passed a lie-detector test administered by the JPSO and that ballistic evidence suggested a second shooter on the scene.
Swanson said the prior crimes the state cited as precedents for using the disputed evidence included a murder trial in which someone’s two prior girlfriends had mysteriously disappeared and an insurance fraud trial in which someone had collected settlements after two suspicious fires.
“In Mr. Barnett’s matter, while the state would like to treat the defendant’s alleged confession as fact, there are no highly fact-specific suspicious circumstances suggesting a link between Mr. Barnett’s charged offense and (the prior incidents),” Swanson wrote. “There is only the self-serving testimony of a jailhouse snitch.”
Swanson said the state is trying to introduce a case in which it has a lower burden of proof because it can’t convict his client of the crime with which he is charged.
“The danger the jury will be confused and will unfairly weigh the evidence is substantial,” Swanson wrote. “If the jury hears said evidence, there is no limiting instruction that would cure the prejudice against Mr. Barnett. The state is simply trying to backdoor totally unsubstantiated crimes against Mr. Barnett.”
Barnett is scheduled for trial the week of Jan. 22.
Swanson said he is appealing Faulkner's ruling.