BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — UPDATED (6/13): Michael Barber has been found guilty of criminally negligent homicide for inadvertently shooting and killing 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington in March of last year when he brought a gun to school.
Barber’s attorney, Emory Anthony, called it a “fair ruling,” however, because his client was facing 20 years in prison were he to be convicted of reckless manslaughter, a felony. Manslaughter is what Barber was initially charged with, but criminally negligent homicide was presented as an option to the jurors Wednesday afternoon.
Once the verdict was announced, the family of Courtlin Arrington emerged from the courtroom in tears.
“That’s not justice,” said Cheryl Arrington, the grandmother of Courtlin. “I don’t believe the jury knew what they were doing. They did not understand the definition of the two charges.”
Anthony acknowledged that in cases like this, nobody is truly a winner.
“There’s no way that you can say anyone won anything in this case,” said Anthony. “It’s a sad situation for both sides. You have a young lady that lost her life and a young man that was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. So, there’s no victory for both sides.”
It was a long day for both sides. Jurors arrived and began deliberating at 9 A.M. Just 30 minutes in, the jury filed back into the courtroom wishing to see surveillance footage from inside the school that appears to show Barber shooting himself while attempting to stow the weapon in his pants. After the jury returned to their deliberations, Anthony made a motion for a mistrial.
Anthony’s motion came one day after Jefferson County Deputy District Attorney Riggs Walker made a statement in closing arguments that suggested Barber ran off with Arrington’s purse after he was shot. Anthony contended Thursday morning that the surveillance video does not show that, even though Arrington’s purse was later found near Barber.
In a conversation with Judge Clyde Jones, Anthony expressed fear that the jury had been tainted by Walker’s unverified remarks and stated that, “the only cure is for a mistrial.” Judge Jones, however, denied the motion and countered that the video was difficult to see and does not rule out with certainty that Barber had Arrington’s purse.
The jury re-entered the courtroom on two separate occasions Thursday to seek clarity on the difference between the charges of reckless manslaughter and criminal negligent homicide.
Judge Jones explained that, “Criminal negligent homicide is when a person is just really negligent and they end up causing the death of somebody. They’re not consciously disregarding the risks, they are failing to perceive them.” The example he gave was speeding on the highway and inadvertently killing someone in an accident.
Manslaughter, per Jones, involves more reckless behavior and a disregard for the associated risks. “In the manslaughter case, the person realizes that there is a threat of death in their conduct, and they decide to do the conduct anyway knowing they could cause somebody’s death,” said Jones. The parallel example given by Judge Jones was driving under the influence and inadvertently killing someone.
In both cases, there was no intent. But, in the latter instance, the actor knew his or her actions could cause harm, but he or she chose to act anyway.
Barber was convicted of the former and led away in handcuffs. Judge Jones set Barber’s sentencing hearing for Aug. 8.
ORIGINAL: The fate of Michael Barber, who is charged with reckless manslaughter for shooting and killing a Huffman High School student in March of 2018, now lies in the hands of 12 jurors. Barber is accused of bringing a gun to school and inadvertently firing it, resulting in the death of 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
CBS 42 News Reporter Robert Sherman live-tweeted the proceedings Wednesday.
In closing arguments, Emory Anthony, the attorney representing Barber, acknowledged that his client did bring a gun to school, but he did not brandish it or “wave it around.” While conversing with Arrington, witness testimonies claim she asked to see the gun. When Barber retrieved the gun from his pocket, Anthony claims the gun inadvertently fired.
Prosecutors, however, see Barber’s actions as reckless as opposed to negligent. “Hasn’t everyone heard that guns are dangerous?” asked Jefferson County deputy district attorney Riggs Walker rhetorically.
Walker contends that Barber knew the dangers associated with a firearm and chose to bring it to school anyway: an act that Walker states cost Arrington her future.
“The defendant’s act has deprived Courtlin of her life and her plans,” stated Walker while showing a photo of Arrington in her nursing attire. Walker stated that Arrington was taking nursing classes in high school and was preparing to pursue her degree.
Anthony, however, encouraged Judge Clyde Jones to offer the jury a lesser charge as an option, being criminal negligent homicide.
According to the Alabama Criminal Code, criminal negligent homicide is a misdemeanor punishable up to one year in jail whereas manslaughter in a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison.
Wednesday, the defense called two witnesses who both know Barber well and vouched for his character. Anthony explained that their testimonies would help provide reasonable doubt that Barber acted recklessly.
When given the opportunity to testify, Barber declined after a brief out-of-courtroom discussion with his attorney.
Deliberations are expected to begin promptly at 9 a.m. Thursday.