Analysis of an interview released by Justin Mertis Barber to correspondent Harold Row

April Barber

On the night of August 17, 2002, around 10:30 p.m., Justin Mertis Barber, 30, killed his wife, April, 27, on the beach of Ponte Vedra, Florida.

On September 15, 2006, Justin Barber was sentenced to life imprisonment.

At the time of her death, April Barber had a $2.1 million life insurance policy that named her husband Justin Barber as the primary beneficiary.

Justin Barber killed his wife April with a single shot in the face, then he shot himself four times to stage a robbery. He used a .22 caliber.

Justin Barber told police that someone approached him and his wife on the beach and that April’s killing was the result of a robbery attempt.

Justin Mertis Barber

Justin Barber spoke to 48 Hours correspondent Harold Dow:

Justin Barber: We had been there a few times before. April’s previous birthday, and I think perhaps the year before. It was a place that we would go to be alone on the beach.

Justin is telling us that he knew that Ponte Vedra Beach was a desert location, especially during the night.

Justin Barber: He was Caucasian. He had a hat on. It’s a dark hat with a logo.

Barber shifts from the past tense “He was”, “He had” to the present tense “It’s”, it may indicate that he is fabricating reality and not recalling from experiential memory. 

When someone is speaking of an event in the past, it is expected the subject to use past tense language. Present tense language is deemed unreliable. Deceptive people often use the present counting on us to interpret and assume that they are speaking of the past event.

Harold Dow: How big was he?

Justin Barber: In relation to me, slightly taller and heavier, two hundred pounds.

Who is “slightly taller and heavier”? There is no pronoun here, Justin Barber is unable or unwilling to say “he was slightly taller and heavier”.

Harold Dow: Do you think it was a robbery?

Justin Barber: Yes.

Harold Dow: Did you hear him saying “give me the money”?

Justin Barber: He was yelling.

Note that Barber doesn’t answer the question because he is unable or unwilling to lie.

Harold Dow: Yelling what?

Justin Barber: I don’t know exactly what he was yelling, I assumed that he wanted money.

Harold Dow: Did you see a gun?

Justin Barber: Yes.

I believe him. This is the truth, he saw a gun, the .22 caliber he used to kill his wife and to shoot himself to stage a robbery.

Harold Dow: Did you see him shoot April?

Justin Barber: I did not see him shoot April, no.

This is parroting language and is deemed unreliable.

Harold Dow: Did he shoot you?

Justin Barber: I know that he did. Yes.

“I know that” is distancing language, moreover these words are unnecessary, superfluous. People often speak in an economy of words. People like to economize their sentences. That’s why we note any extra words present in a sentence.

 Justin Barber: We were struggling, there was a fight.

I believe him. Justin Barber is telling the truth, he just omits to say who are these “We” that “were struggling” and between who “there was a fight”.

According with the autopsy report April suffered a near- drowning episode before being shot, we can easily assume that Justin and April were the “we” who “were struggling” and in a “fight”.

Harold Dow: After it was all over you came to?

Justin Barber: Yes.

Harold Dow: And what happened you look around?

Justin Barber: Yes.

Harold Dow: And what did you see?

Justin Barber: Nothing at first.

Note that Justin Barber reports in the negative seeing “Nothing”. This is impossible and sounds story telling. He certainly saw things. Only deceptive people tell us what they didn’t see, didn’t do, didn’t think or didn’t hear.

Harold Dow: Did you call her name?

Justin Barber: I was yelling her name.

“yelling” is the same verb that Justin used to refer to the assailant.

  1. The assailant was yelling,
  2. he was yelling,
  3. he was the assailant.

Justin Barber: I ran down the beach. I couldn’t find her. I was screaming.
I remember feeling confusion, I remember feeling noxious, panic.

Note that Barber reports in the negative that he “couldn’t find her”

“I ran down the beach. I couldn’t find her. I was screaming” it’s possibly that these things really happened but before the shooting.

“I remember” is unnecessary wording whereas in truthful accounts people can only tell us what they remember. Justin Barber is telling us that he could have referred something not from his experiential memory previously. 

Note the inclusion of emotions in the right part of the statement. Justin Barber is simply diverting the focus on himself to fish for sympathy. The useless sentence “I couldn’t find her” helps him to give us an additional reason for him to “feeling confusion… noxious, panic”.

Justin Barber: She wasn’t responding to me.

Note that he is reporting something in the negative, again. 

It’s possibly that she “wasn’t responding” because she didn’t want to talk to him anymore. 

Harold Dow: So what did you do?

Justin Barber: (long pause) I pulled her out the water.

Justin takes time to answer. The question is sensitive to him.

Justin Barber: I pulled her, kept trying to pull her up.

Barber is telling us not that he pulled her up but that he “kept trying to pull her up”. This indicates that the process to pull her up was quite long. Was this a long process because she was still alive and fighting for her life while in the water? According with the autopsy report she almost drowned before she was shot to the head and, according with the blood spatter evidence, no one moved her body after the shooting. She was shot where she was found and before the shooting she was in the water, not after. 

Justin Barber: My body just was not responding the way that I think that it should have.

Justin Barber: We got to the point at which the boardwalk meets the sand and then there’s a set of stairs that lead up to the boardwalk. I could barelyl drag her up the stairs. I wanted to lean her over my shoulder and try to carry her that way to the road.

When Barber says “We got” he is telling us that April was still alive

Justin Barber doesn’t say that he leaned her over his shoulder but that he wanted to lean her over his shoulder and again, he doesn’t say that he carried her but that he “try to carry her”. Justin Barber didn’t do any of these actions.

Justin Barber: I dropped her and I think the sound of her hitting the ground caused a reaction in me and I knew at that point that what I was doing was just not working.

The sound he is talking about is the sound of the gun shot. This is the moment he shot her. She hit the ground after he shot her in the face.

Justin Barber: I don’t know what the top process was but I left her at (unintelligible).

When Barber says “I don’t know what the top process was but I left her” he is very cold and doesn’t show any remorse. These are the words of a sociopath.

Harold Dow: And where did you go?

Justin Barber: I ran across the… the board lock of the highway looking for help and then is when I saw the first car.

“then” is a temporal lacunae, a signal of missing information. 

Barber is introducing “the first car” to defend himself. He is subtly trying to attribute the shooting to the owner of this car. 

When he says “I saw the first car” he is telling us that he saw more than one car. Why he didn’t stop any of these cars if he was really looking for help?

Justin Barber:  So, I just left. I didn’t even stop to get my shoes. I just immediately started running to the highway.

“left” is another temporal lacunae, there are missing information here too.

I just immediately started running” is quite different from the previous “I ran”, “immediately” is in contradiction with “started”, this is another long process.

The dependent word “just” is used in comparison. That he says I just immediately started running is to compare “running” with something else. 

Justin Barber: I ran to our vehicle. I remember getting in the truck and driving back to town. I was driving very, very fast with my four-way flashers on.

“I remember” is unnecessary wording whereas in truthful accounts people can only tell us what they remember. Justin Barber is telling us that he could have referred something not from his experiential memory previously. 

He says “very” twice making the sentence “I was driving very, very fast” sensitive, moreover if he was driving fast, he was not looking for help. He drove 10 miles before stopping.

Justin Barber: I was driving erratically. I was looking for help. I was looking for attention. I remember seeing a red light and stopping there and cars were there and I started yelling for help.

Barber is telling us that he “was driving erratically” and “looking for attention”, we can easily assume that his goal was not to find help but to look shocked. He was building his defence.

“I remember” is unnecessary wording whereas in truthful accounts people can only tell us what they remember. Justin Barber is telling us that he could have referred something not from his experiential memory previously. 

Again, Barber is the one who was “yelling” that night like the assailant did.

Justin Barber: Have you ever been kicked by a horse?

Harold Dow: No.

Justin Barber: I had and I felt I had been kicked by a horse in several places. It was painful, it was painful.

This is truth but the truth is also that he shot himself. He repeats twice “It was painful”, this is sensitive to him. Didn’t he expect this? 

He has a need to portrait himself as a victim. He is fishing for sympathy.

Justin Barber: I left her there, I was trying to find help.

Note the word “trying”, he doesn’t say “I left her there to find help” but a weaker “I was trying to find help”, another long process.

Justin Barber: Now it’s deeply shamed I have abandoned her on her own on that beach. And I think I would went crazy at that point.

Justin Barber: I’m a broken man.

This is true, he is a broken man at least in two ways, he is not only a looser that killed his wife because he was financially “broken” and wanted to cash in on her insurance policy but he is also a “broken” sociopath because he has been caught in his lies. 

Justin Barber: I’m not a violent person. I would never ever considered doing anything like that.

Justin Barber had the occasion to say freely “I didn’t kill my wife April” but he was unable to lie.

“I’m not a violent person” is not a reliable denial. Note also that the meaning of the word “violent” is subjective.

“I would never ever considered doing anything like that” is an unreliable denial. 

He says “doing anything like that” instead of “kill” to minimize. Minimization is a distancing measure, it’s a way to avoid of dealing with negative emotions by reducing the importance and impact of events that give rise to those emotions, it’s a common strategy used by guilty people to deal with feelings of guilt.

We can assume that Justin Barber never ever considered doing anything like that until he considered doing it and did it.

Harold Dow: Did you kill your wife?

Justin Barber: No sir, I didn’t kill my wife.

This is not a reliable denial because he is parroting the correspondent.

A reliable denial is found in the free editing process, not in the parroted language. A reliable denial has 3 components:

1. the pronoun “I”
2. past tense verb “did not” or “didn’t”
3. accusation answered

If a denial has more than 3 or less than 3 components, it is no longer reliable.

“I did not kill April” followed by “I told the truth” while addressing the denial, it is more than 99% likely to be true. A deceptive person will alter his denial to avoid a direct lie. 

 Harold Dow: Did you shoot yourself four times to cover the murder?

Justin Barber: No, that’s ridiculous. No, I did not.

Harold Dow: Did you love April?

Justin Barber: I did. I still do.

Justin Barber: I wore my wedding band on a leather tongue around my neck.

Barber is fishing for sympathy and shows a need to persuade that innocent people don’t have.

Harold Dow: Why do you wear that around your neck?

Justin Barber: Because I wasn’t ready to let her go. It was a reminder of her and was a reminder of my failure during our marriage.

When he “wasn’t ready to let her go”? When she asked him for divorce? 

Which “failure”? For Barber himself his main failure was to be caught.

Justin Barber: I will fight until I have no more options.

He didn’t fight until he had no more options to save his wife’s life but he will do to save himself.

Harold Dow: And you’ll scream all the time that you are innocent?

Justin Barber: Yes, because I’m… innocent.

Note the pause before saying the word “innocent”, this is not something easy to say for him.

“I am… innocent” is an unreliable denial. To affirm to be innocent is different from saying “I didn’t kill my wife April”, which was expected. To say, “I am… innocent” is to deny the judicial outcome, not the action. An innocent de facto is someone who did not “do it” and is able to say “I didn’t do it” and eventually to add in the judicial conclusion. When people say they are innocent, they are just denying the conclusion that they are guilty, not the action.

Justin Barber: Everything they asked for, I gave them. Every time they wanted me to come back to St. John’s County and talk to them some more, I did. Whenever they wanted a statement, I gave it them.

These actions don’t make him innocent de facto.

Justin Barber: If that jury think I killed April, they should execute me. I would never ask for mercy… for the person who killed her.

I killed April” is an embedded admission.

Note the pause after “I would never ask for mercy”.

When he says “I would never ask for mercy” he is telling us again that he is the person who killed April. He adds, after a pause, “for the person who killed her” to try to fix his previous incriminating affirmation.

Harold Dow: Why not?

Justin Barber: Because they don’t deserve… if that jury believes I’m that person then they should send me to the death row.

Justin Barber says freely “I’m that person”, this is an embedded admission, he is not parroting Harold Dow.

Analysis Conclusion:

Deception Indicated.

Justin Barber has guilty knowledge of what happened to his wife.

Ursula Franco, MD and criminologist