Correction: This story misstated the age Barnett would be upon release eligibility. The story has been corrected.
A jury on Thursday found a 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate guilty of committing felony assault and battery when he shot a process server attempting to give him legal documents at his south Tulsa home in July.
The jurors deliberated for about an hour before rejecting Christopher Jonathan Barnett’s argument that he shot the process server in self-defense and recommending he receive a sentence of 32 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. District Judge Tracy Priddy will sentence Barnett on April 9.
Barnett will be required to serve at least 85% of the sentence on a violent crime conviction, meaning he would likely be in his early 60s before eligible for release.
“We’re a centimeter away from listening to a murder trial,” Assistant District Attorney Mark Collier told the jury of the process server’s wound to his left elbow, which was positioned over his chest when he was shot.
Barnett attempted unsuccessfully in January to be declared immunity from prosecution in the case under Oklahoma’s Stand Your Ground law, which has different legal criteria from the state’s self-defense statute.
He took the stand Wednesday and continued to assert the process server presented a threat to him, though he conceded the man never pointed a weapon at him during their brief altercation just before 9 p.m. July 24. The process server testified Tuesday and said the shooting resulted in his having permanent partial mobility loss in his left arm.
Barnett told two Tulsa television news reporters on July 25 he fired at the process server after either seeing a gun or having a gun pulled on him. However, video and audio evidence shown to the jury — which the Tulsa World obtained from Barnett’s previous legal team last year — showed the process server only flashed legal documents at Barnett, who kept his front door closed while they spoke.
“You’d have to disbelieve your own eyes when you see that video,” Collier said of Barnett’s self-defense claim. Collier also said Barnett made statements to the jury about how he thought the process server “had no respect for human life” and “wanted to know what it was like to shoot someone.”
“He’s attributing to (the process server) exactly what he feels about himself,” Collier said, calling Barnett’s posture in the case one of “arrogance.”
“That arrogance is what makes him dangerous,” he added, saying Barnett attempted to show remorse to the jury by saying he regretted what happened “but can’t keep it together for five minutes” before demeaning the process server’s character.
At one point during his testimony on Wednesday, Barnett said the process server — not him — should be the person who sits in jail because he was “not exactly a stand-up citizen.”
Assistant Public Defender Jason Lollman on Thursday played an audio recording of a 911 call Barnett placed after the shooting took place. In the clip, Barnett is heard breathing heavily and saying “I need police here now” because the process server “pulled what looked like a gun.”
“The greatest embellishment in this trial was what the state told you,” Lollman said. “They left (Barnett’s 911 call) out (of their case). Ask yourself why.”
Lollman on Thursday said he was disappointed in the jury’s decision and Barnett plans to appeal. He also said he believes the sentencing recommendation to be harsh and noted homicide cases in which his clients got shorter sentences after plea agreements.
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, during his closing argument, told the jury he came up with an acronym for Barnett of “IGAEFT” or “I’ve Got An Embellishment For That” because of how frequently the word was used.
“Rather than say, ‘Yeah I make stuff up,’ he used the word ‘embellish’ (in his testimony) because it doesn’t sound as bad as saying ‘I don’t tell the truth,’ ” Kunzweiler said.
Lollman questioned why the process server opted to visit Barnett’s home just before 9 p.m., a time when many people begin preparing to go to sleep. He also said no one disputed the process server had a gun with him the evening of the shooting, as a firefighter testified he took a gun from the man’s holster before the man went to the hospital.
”The state can sit here and Monday morning quarterback it all they want,” Lollman said. Barnett then nodded along as Lollman told jurors he didn’t have time to come up with a favorable narrative when he called 911 and told them the process server was armed.
Collier and Kunzweiler, though, noted Barnett testified that he meant to shoot the process server in the leg after he showed his attorney how he fired his gun from chest level.
Barnett is about 6-foot-5, while the process server is about 5-foot-9. A Tulsa Police sergeant testified Wednesday that the papers the process server had, which he dropped in the grass when he shot, were recovered about 37½ feet away from Barnett’s front door.
“He can’t tell the truth to save his own life — literally,” Collier said, telling the jury to “give him a number of years that will at least put a dent in that arrogance.”
Barnett will stand trial again in June on unrelated charges of threatening an act of violence in connection with a dispute involving employees of the University of Tulsa.