A man who shot a process server attempting to give him notice of a lawsuit at his residence was sentenced to 32 years in prison Friday by a Tulsa County judge following a jury’s recommendation.
The sentencing hearing for Christopher Barnett was first set for April 9 after a March jury trial, but District Judge Tracy Priddy had to reschedule it several times due to closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. After initially setting it for June 9, Priddy said in a court minute that attorneys agreed to meet for a hearing Friday morning, for which Barnett appeared from a closed circuit video link at the Tulsa County jail.
A courthouse staffer told the Tulsa World that Priddy also overruled Barnett’s defense team’s motion for a new trial. In upholding the jury’s sentencing recommendation, Priddy said the prison term was within the sentencing range and appropriate given the evidence presented to jurors.
Assistant Public Defender Jason Lollman spoke out about the case in a public Twitter post after the sentencing, saying: “He’s devastated. I’m devastated. But we’re going to keep fighting for him.” Lollman told the World his client plans to appeal the conviction and sentence.
However, District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, who tried the case with Assistant District Attorney Mark Collier, said he did not find Barnett’s comments to the judge expressing remorse “deep or sincere.” If Barnett’s appeal is unsuccessful, he will be in at least his mid-60s when he becomes eligible for parole because the felony assault charge is an 85% crime.
“It was apparent to me that despite the passage of time from the jury’s verdict until today, not much sank in,” Kunzweiler said. “As he did in trial, he made it all about himself. I asked the court to give him every day of the 32 years that the jury recommended, and the court followed their sentence.”
In Barnett’s March trial, Collier told jurors they were “a centimeter away” from hearing a murder case because the positioning of the process server’s left elbow when he was shot saved him from receiving a bullet wound to his chest.
The process server read a victim impact statement in court Friday morning in which he said he was “shot and nearly killed for simply doing my job.” He said the injury means he can no longer help his mother with housework or play with his son, and that he still struggles to sleep due to pain.
“Some time after the shooting, my son came up to me. This 4-year-old sensed something was wrong with my arm,” he wrote. “He laid his little hand near the injury. He looked up at me and said ‘Sorry.’ I think it is important to point out that Barnett shows no remorse but my 4-year-old son can show sympathy and empathy.”
Barnett argued he acted in self-defense when he testified and asserted repeatedly throughout the past year that he should be declared immune from prosecution under Oklahoma’s Stand Your Ground law, even releasing home video surveillance of the shooting to the media.
He also alleged he was able to tell the process server had a concealed weapon and claimed to police that he “pulled what looked like a gun” at him.
The process server recorded audio footage that, combined with video footage, showed Barnett told him multiple times to leave his property before shooting him when he said he would be waiting for him to come outside so he could give him paperwork. He did not openly display a firearm during the interaction.
“All anybody has to do is examine the facts as to how fortunate Mr. Barnett was to have not been charged with murder. It was a matter of pure happenstance and good fortune that (the man’s) arm happened to be where it was when he was shot,” Kunzweiler said.
Barnett is due in court next week for a status conference ahead of a scheduled trial on allegations he threatened violence online against employees at the University of Tulsa. Kunzweiler said the trial, which is set in June, will likely be postponed due to the pandemic.