Murder trial on May docket

Published 12:05 am Saturday, May 5, 2012

A man charged with capital murder and attempted murder is set to go before Circuit Judge Lex Short in the upcoming criminal court session.

Michael D. Barbaree was charged with the murder of Travis Sasser and the attempted murder of Merita Sasser, in May 2009.

According to Star-News’ archives, a caregiver arrived at the Sasser home for work and found the home on fire, with the Sassers still inside. Sasser was locked inside a bedroom, beaten to death with what was believed to be a hammer. Sasser’s wife, who was inside one of the other bedrooms, was rescued from the home and sent to a Dothan hospital where she was treated for smoke inhalation. Merita Sasser died later that year.

At the time he was arrested, law enforcement authorities told The Star-News that Barbaree had confessed to the murder. He was the son of a caregiver for the Sassers, and he had been living at the home. Authorities said he took a television set, tools and money from the residence, acts that elevated his charge from murder to capital murder, for which he could receive the death penalty if found guilty.

This was 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. Barbaree served time for the escape conviction and was released.

The attorney general’s office will prosecute the case, and his attorneys are Chris Sledge and Larry Grissett.

Additionally, the state is set to prosecute Joseph Russell, who is charged with attempted murder after a “cutting” at an Opp nightclub in November 2008.

Russell was initially charged with first-degree assault as a result of the incident at Opp’s Little Harlem Club on Hardin Street; however, the Covington County grand jury upgraded the charge to attempted murder.

Opp Police Chief Nickey Carnley said previously the unidentified victim has been cut in the neck area with a knife.

David Harrison is Russell’s attorney and District Attorney Walt Merrell will be the prosecutor.

Also on the docket is the case against an Andalusia woman charged with three separate felonies – rape II, sodomy II and possession of obscene material – who was charged with having inappropriate sexual relations with a 15-year-old boy after the two were found at a local campground.

Reports indicate, “When deputies approached the pair, it was apparent the two had been engaged in consensual sexual activity.”

Amanda Lyn Cook, then-23, was charged after deputies notified investigator Howard West who interviewed Cook and an unidentified juvenile under the age of 17.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter will represent the state and John Norris will represent Cook.

Trials are scheduled for the week of May 21.