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Murder suspect arrested

A man who shared the home of Travis and Merita Sasser has confessed to the murder and attempted murder of the husband and wife last Thursday.

Michael D. Barbaree, a one-time fellow escapee of convicted murderers Oscar Roy Doster and Bobby O’Lee Phillips, was the first person initially questioned after the bludgeoning death of Travis Sasser and an attempt to burn Sasser’s bedridden wife to death in the couple’s Odom Road home.

Wednesday, Sheriff Dennis Meeks, along with District Attorney Greg Gambril, said the 28-year-old had been formally charged with capital murder, first-degree arson and attempted murder earlier that morning.

On Thurs., May 14, a caregiver arrived at the Sasser home for work and found the home on fire, with the Sassers still inside. In the week since the incident, little news had been released on the circumstances or motive behind the crimes that led authorities to find Sasser inside a locked bedroom, beaten to death with what is believed to have been a hammer.

Sasser’s wife, who was inside one of the other bedrooms, was rescued from the home and sent to a Dothan hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. She has since been released and relocated to her daughter’s home in Georgia.

“As the investigation began, the focus was on three individuals,” Meeks said. “But it was later determined there were several inconsistencies in Michael Barbaree’s story. The alibis of the other two subjects were confirmed.”

Barbaree, who was identified as the caregiver’s son, had been living at the Sasser home as part of what is believed to be an arrangement between the two families.

Gambril said Barbaree was identified as a suspect within three hours of the incident. It is not believed anyone else was involved in the crimes, both Meeks and Gambril said.

Law enforcement alleges Barbaree stole a television set, tools and an un-named quantity of money from the residence — an act that constitutes the elevation in charge from murder to capital murder.

“All resources available — on both a state and local level — were used in the case,” Meeks said. “I feel we have a very strong case — enough to charge Barbaree with capital murder, first degree arson and attempted murder.

“(The situation) is all bad,” Meeks said. “The taking of human life is a horrendous action and Barbaree has admitted to the crimes.

“Right now, the (Sasser) family is still in the grieving process. At the time that I met with them and talked with them, they expressed their thanks of the job done,” he said.

This is not Barbaree’s first brush with the law.

In November 2002, Barbaree, along with Oscar Roy Doster, Bobby O’Lee Phillips and Charles Meeks, escaped from the Covington County Jail through a ventilation system. Since then, he has served his time on the escape conviction and been released. Now, he is again inside the Covington County Jail, where he is being held without bond.

Gambril said he expects the case to be presented to the grand jury in September and it is unknown when it may come up for trial.

If convicted, Barbaree could face the death penalty or receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Gambril said it is unknown if he will seek the death penalty in the case stating, “it would be well into the trial before that decision is made.”