4 indicted for Barton murderPublished 12:00am Saturday, December 14, 2013
Covington County learned Friday that a grand jury indicted four people this week in the nearly 20-year-old murder of Heath convenience store owner, James “Nibby” Barton.
The announcement was made in a Friday afternoon press conference.
Three are in custody and the fourth will soon be, District Attorney Walt Merrell told the crowd, which included Barton’s son and daughter-in-law and a host of police officers, lawyers and media members. Family members found Barton dead inside his store from a single gunshot wound to the chest on May 2, 1994.
Merrell identified three suspects in custody as:
• Eugene Wallace Black, 55;
• Sheila Walker Williams, 52; and,
• Shelia Ellison Brooks, 57.
Black is charged with murder, robbery I, burglary III, domestic violence/harassment and violation of parole and is being held on a $2.55 million bond.
Williams and Brooks are each charged with murder and robbery I and are being held on a $1 million bond.
“I’m not going to go into the specifics of investigation, but we are here today because of the efforts of the Cold Case Task Force,” Merrell said as he described the anonymous 16-member group of law enforcement officers and its formation in February. “They are, in my humble opinion, the single most effective coalition of law enforcement in the wiregrass.”
Merrell said the task force began the investigation with five theories for Barton’s death; however, over the course of 10 months, Merrell said, “Investigators combed through reams of information, interviewed more than 70 witnesses – including one partial confession – and followed up on tens of dozens of leads” to determine the group’s involvement.
Merrell said the evidence was presented to the grand jury to “test the evidence and determine if the case would stand muster. And it did.”
When asked about the apprehension of the fourth suspect, Merrell said, “We cannot identify that person until they are in custody; however, we are confident that person will be in custody shortly.”
Sheriff Dennis Meeks said the day should serve as a lesson to the victims in cold cases.
“Let this be an example to not give up on law enforcement,” Meeks said. “Sometimes, it takes the right piece of evidence or a good lead to head the case in the right direction.”
For the Barton case, it was a partial confession given by one of the four suspects, Merrell said. He declined to reveal which, but said the information was crucial to solving the case.
“My family has waited 19 ½ years for today,” said Jimmy Barton. “It’s a good feeling to be standing here. These God-fearing men searched each and every lead, no matter how big or small, and it worked.”
Merrell said the four suspects were “all friends” at the time of the crime. In June, the body of Walter Eugene Dean was exhumed. Then, Merrell told The Star-News that had he been alive, Dean would’ve been considered a suspect in Barton’s murder.
The details of how the group allegedly robbed and murdered Barton will not be learned until the case goes to trial; however, as of Friday, Black, Williams and Brooks sit in the Covington County Jail.
The Star-News will update this story once more information on the fourth suspect is released.