Son: We thought we’d never see closure

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 14, 2013

His face was stoic as law enforcement delivered the news that his father’s alleged killers had been identified and taken into custody.

His demeanor gradually relaxed as congratulations and well wishes were offered, and by the time he shared his story with The Star-News, Jimmy Barton couldn’t keep the smile off his face.

“Today means a lot to my family,” Barton said. “I can’t truly put it into words.”

On Friday, the Barton family received closure when news broke that three of the four people responsible for the May 1994 shooting death of James “Nibby” Barton were in custody.

District Attorney Walt Merrell described the late Mr. Barton as a “dedicated father and hard working businessman who would give you the shirt off his back.” He said a team of officers from nearly every agency in Covington County, as well as the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, worked to solve the shooting in 1994.

Barton said he and his family were eating dinner when news came through of his father’s murder.

“My son and I rushed to the station and found Dad behind the counter,” he said. “It was just bad.

“I was glad when they brought in ABI,” Barton said. “I said, ‘Maybe now, we’ll get somewhere,’ but we didn’t. Time went on, and we never could come up with a lead to go forward with.”

It took nearly 20 years, 70 witness interviews and tens of dozens of leads to give the family the answer it needed for closure.

Since the announcement of the Cold Case Task Force in February and speculation began about the cases under investigation, the Barton family never spoke to the media about the case.

On Friday, Barton said District Attorney Walt Merrell and Sheriff Dennis Meeks approached his family in February about revisiting the case.

“They said, ‘If you don’t think you can’t go back and revisit the circumstances, we understand,’” Barton said. “But, I was glad they wanted to go back at it.

“My family has waited 19 ½ years for today, and at one point, we thought we’d never see closure,” he said.

Barton credited the 16 members of the county’s cold case task force, who agreed to remain anonymous, for indictments of Eugene Wallace Black, Sheila Brooks, Shelia Williams and a to-be-named fourth suspect.

He also sent his thoughts to their families.

“This is Christmas, and this is a time to be thankful, and I am,” Barton said. “But then again, you have other side of the stick – their family is heartbroken, I’m sure.

“I’ve been there in their place,” he said. “But you know, justice always prevails. There’s no win-win for anyone. I’m glad to see closure. I know my dad is looking down, pleased, too.”

Another person pleased with this week’s outcome is former sheriff Wilbur Mitchell, who was in office at the time of Barton’s death.

“We did the best job we could with what we had to work with at the time,” Mitchell said of the investigation. “

“I just prayed, ‘Lord, let me live long enough to see it closed,’” he said of the investigation. “I’m extremely proud that these guys finished the job for us. It feels great.”