Man pleads, gets life for ‘09 murder

Published 12:06 am Thursday, January 24, 2013

Michael D. Barbaree will spend the rest of his life in an Alabama prison for the 2009 death of Travis D. Sasser.

Michael D. Barbaree

Barbaree, who was charged with capital murder and could have received the death penalty, previously had entered a not guilty plea. He withdrew the previous plea and plead guilty in exchange for a life without parole sentence in Judge Lex Short’s courtroom Wedne-sday.

Barbaree also was charged with arson and attempted murder.

On May 14, 2009, a caregiver arrived at the Sasser home for work and found the home on fire, with the Sassers still inside. Authorities found Sasser inside a locked bedroom, beaten to death with what is believed to have been a hammer. His wife, Merita Sasser, 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 died about four months later.

Tina Coker Hammonds of the Attorney General’s office prosecuted the case. District Attorney Walt Merrell represented Barbaree before he sought the DA’s office and recused himself from the case.

Hammond said Sasser’s family was amenable to the plea agreement, which she believed was the best outcome for all parties. However, Hammond said, the state was prepared to go to trial and seek the death penalty.

Hammonds told Judge Short that Barbaree had eight prior felonies, including an escape from the Covington County Jail with Oscar Roy Doster in November of 2002. Ironically, at least two of Barbaree’s fellow 2002 escapees are death row inmates. Doster and Bobby O’Lee Phillips each got the death penalty for the murder of Paul LeMaster.

After being charged with Sasser’s death, Barbaree was charged with first-degree escape and promoting prison contraband after his escape plans were foiled. The charges were found after a tool that could have been used in an escape or as a weapon was found in his cell in a routine shakedown.

Local attorneys Chris Sledge and Larry Grissett represented Barbaree in the murder case.