Murder trial witnesses talk meth, prostitution, penitentiary

Published 1:14 am Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The former girlfriend of Eugene Black testified Tuesday that, despite years of meth use, she clearly remembers the day James “Nibby” Barton died, and believes her former boyfriend played a role in his death.

But jurors also heard two investigators say there is no physical evidence linking Black to the crime, and two witnesses claimed the questions they were asked made them appear “crazy.”

Black was among the four people charged in December of 2013 with robbery and murder in the cold case murder of Barton, which occurred on May 2, 1994.

For the short version of yesterday’s testimony, click here

Sheila Walker Williams, and sisters Sandra Ellison Lynn and Shelia Ellison Brooks, also were charged in the crime. Lynn entered a plea deal in May in which she agreed to testify; Williams entered a plea deal this week, the terms of which have not been disclosed; and Brooks died in jail of natural causes just weeks after her arrest.

Jimmy Barton

Jurors first heard from the victim’s son, Jimmy Barton, who said that his father had a check-cashing business in his store, and frequently cashed payroll checks for the carpet plant and the cement plant.

He said his father kept money for cashing checks in his right front shirt pocket and in a paper bag under the front counter beside a pistol.

Peter Bush, the attorney for Eugene Black, asked Barton how he knew for sure that there was money in the bags or the gun was actually there on the particular day.

Barton testified that some $7,000 to $8,000 was returned to the family.

Bush asked Barton how he knew his father had been robbed.

“I assumed there was a robbery, because my dad was laying on the floor,” he said. “My dad wouldn’t be laying there if there hadn’t been one.”


Mark Crews

Mark Crews, a former forensics investigator with the Alabama Department of Forensic Science who assisted in the investigation in 1994, testified there was an open bag of potato chips and a root beer bottle on the counter when he processed the scene.


Jerome Cobb

Jerome Cobb, former investigator with the Covington County Sheriff’s Office and the lead investigator of the case at the time, also took the stand.

Cobb testified that Barton’s body was laid out face down with his head to the side behind the counter.

Cobb photographed tire marks leaving the store.

Bush asked Cobb what kind of specialized training he had in death investigations to which he replied he we went through the police academy and had some homicide training at the University of Alabama.

Bush asked Cobb if he found evidence that linked Black to the crime.

“I didn’t recover anything that directly linked Eugene to it,” he said. “There was no money in Barton’s front right pocket, I’m not sure about from under the counter, but we found money hidden throughout the store.”

Bush asked Cobb what evidence showed there was a robbery.

“Money was missing and he was shot, that would tell me that,” Cobb said. “As a norm, people in community knew that he always had money on him.”


Wesley Snodgrass

Current Covington County Sheriff’s Investigator Wesley Snodgrass also took the stand. Snodgrass is a member of the Cold Case Task Force tasked with re-opening the Barton case and others to find those responsible.

Snodgrass testified that he talked to a number of Black’s friends during the course of re-opening the case.

Snodgrass said that Black was interviewed, as was Shelia Walker Williams, Sandra Lynn, Vince (Elmo) Walker, and James Cain, and that there was a huge number of people who provided background information.

Bush asked Snodgrass if there was any direct evidence that Black was involved.

“There is no physical evidence,” he said.


Sandra Lynn

Lynn testified that she had known Barton for about 14 years before he was killed, and that he cashed her check when she worked in the sewing factory.

At the time of the murder, Lynn said she and Black were in a relationship and living together in a trailer at the corner of Point A Road and Hwy 29.

Lynn testified that on the morning of the murder that she, Black and her brother had breakfast and a discussion about needing money.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter asked Lynn what they needed money for.

“For food and other things,” she said. “They were talking about where to get it and I said, ‘Nibby has money.’”

Lynn also testified that they discussed getting prostitution money from Barton and that Black and Dean took Shelia Ellison Brooks and Shelia Walker Williams with them when they left the house with the plan to prostitute the women out. Brooks was Lynn’s sister, and Lynn later testified Williams was a friend who as close as a sister.

She said they were gone for an hour to an hour and a half.

Lynn said testified that Black told her when he got back that the robbery had gone bad.

She said she saw he had a bulge in his pants.

Jeter asked Lynn if she took a plea deal in the case in exchange for truthful testimony.

She said she plead guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery and received a 12.5 year sentence, but it was split. She is expected to serve two years and the rest is probation. Lynn said she is also ordered to do a year in rehab.

Lynn also testified that in February of 2013, when Snodgrass originally interviewed her, she did not tell him everything she knew because she was scared.

“How do you feel about your part?” Jeter asked.

“I feel real bad,” Lynn said.

Bush questioned how Lynn knew that Black killed Barton when she wasn’t physically present.

“I know the truth,” she said. “They went riding and that was the truth.”

Bush said that Black had won a more than $60,000 lawsuit a few months before.

“He won a lawsuit,” Bush said. “What did he need money for?”

Lynn said that she didn’t see anyone kill Barton because she wasn’t present.

“I believe that he did,” she said.

When testimony resumed after lunch, Lynn testified that she has used methamphetamines at least twice a week for “years,” as well as marijuana and alcohol.

She said she began using after the death of her baby in 1989, and the last time she used was in January of this year.

However, she testified the 25 years of drug use have not affected her ability to remember.

Lynn testified that she met Black in 1991, and soon after that they became boyfriend and girlfriend, and were living together on Stewart Street.

Later, she said, after Black received a settlement that resulted from an accident in which he was involved, they moved to the corner of Hwy. 29 and Point A Road, where they had a mobile home. She testified that Black also bought several vehicles.

Bush continually questioned Lynn about memory problems potentially caused by drugs, then entered as an exhibit a letter Lynn wrote to former codefendant Shelia Williams.

Later, Lynn read the letter, in which she apologized to Williams, and said, “I’m so sorry if I’ve hurt you. I don’t remember what I said. Please forgive me one day.”

Bush asked her if the letter was true, and if wasn’t, why she wrote it.

“I don’t know why I wrote it,” she said.

Later, after the defense attorney asked several more questions, Lynn said, “I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m confused. “

When Jeter asked her what she was confused about, Lynn said, “All these questions. He’s turning it in to ‘I’m crazy.’ I’m not crazy.”

Bush previously had tried to get a report written by Lynn’s doctor, which is said to detail a diagnosis of schizophrenia, among other things, admitted into evidence. Because the doctor who wrote the report is not available to be qualified as a witness, the request was denied.


Dennis ‘Elmo’ Walker

Walker said he had known Lynn and her late sister all of his life, and that Williams is his cousin’s ex-wife.

He testified that he visited the trailer where Black, Lynn and Williams were living twice on the day of the murder.

Walker said he was visiting with Lynn and Walker that morning when Black and two women arrived. Black came in the trailer, he said.

“He came inside and him and Sandra Ellison (Lynn) got into a fuss real bad. There was a lot of cussing going on,” he said.

Walker testified that Black was hollering, “Where’d you put it?” When Lynn indicated an area between the sofa and the wall, he said, Black walked over, picked up a shoebox and lifted the lid off.

“I saw the pistol in the box,” he said. He also testified that he left while they were arguing.

Walker said he returned that afternoon.

“I pulled in the yard,” he said. “Sandra come flying out the door – she was booking it and she was hollering at me, ‘You need to get out of here. The law’s probably coming. Eugene and them probably just killed that man up at the store.’ “

Walker testified that “I listened and I left.”


Patricia Vines

Patricia Vines testified that she saw a vehicle with four people in it leaving Barton’s store.

“I was headed up 29,” she said. Just before she passed Barton’s store, she said, a small white vehicle “shot out in front of me and I had to skid my brakes. “

The vehicle ended up in the opposite sid of road in the grass, she said.

She testified that she saw Eugene Black and Shelia Clark Brooks in front seat and Shelia Williams and a man she didn’t know in the back seat.

She said she told deputies what she saw two days after Barton’s murder.


James Cain

Cain, who currently is serving time in the Covington County Jail for two counts of theft of property, receiving stolen property, breaking and entering a vehicle, and two counts of escape, testified that he knew the victim, and that he also knew Black during that time.

He testified that before the murder, he was visiting with Black when Black showed him a “couple of handguns in an old Army box.”

Cain said he recognized the guns.

“I had saw ‘em in 1983, when Gene Dean had ‘em,” he said, adding that Dean had promised to sell him one of them.

He also testified that after the murder, while working with Bubba Ward, he went with Ward to the junkyard to sell a load of metal. There, he said, he saw Black.

Cain said Black told him, “They’ve got me on panic, under the gun” because of the Barton investigation.

Cain said, “I didn’t take him serious right then.”

Asked if he told law enforcement officers about the conversation, Cain said he started thinking about the 1994 conversation “when I seen them excavating and digging and all.”

“I started replaying this in my mind,” he said. “It kind of started falling in place.”

Cain said he was arrested for DUI, and talked about what he remembered to someone in the jail.

“He contacted Mr. Snodgrass.”


Court resumes at 2 p.m. today, and McKathan said there is a possibility the jury could get the case this afternoon.