Damion Barton hesitated for 14 seconds as he considered whether to plead guilty to murder for tying up, shooting and robbing a family friend who had once sheltered him in her home.
He looked down, he looked up, and then he shook his head from side to side. He let out a sigh and then finally, he answered Gwinnett Assistant District Attorney John Warr’s question about whether he admitted to the killing with a simple “yes, sir.”
That answer spared Barton from the possibility of getting the death penalty. His guilty plea garnered him a sentence of life plus 20 years.
Prosecutors said Barton killed 61-year-old Eva Francis on Sept. 6, 2010 when he visited her house on Garnett Way just outside of Snellville. Erroll Francis, away on a business trip, called the police when he wasn’t able to reach his wife on the phone.
Gwinnett County officers found the back door damaged and ajar when they went to check on Francis. She was sitting on the master bedroom floor in a nightgown, her ankles and arms bound with a telephone cord and her mouth covered with masking tape, according to Warr.
Francis had received gunshot wounds to her thigh, upper leg, chest, abdomen and face. Her purse was dumped out on the bed and her 2003 Toyota 4Runner, a laptop and several business bank bags were missing.
Barton, 33, of Conyers, offered no apologies when he addressed the court. His comments instead focused on his parents, who sat quietly on a bench behind him.
As he spoke, the 6-foot-2-inch-tall Barton towered over his two state-appointed capital defense lawyer flanking him, Christian Lamar and Emily Gilbert, who appeared to be trying to comfort him by putting a hand on his back.
“I asked God to give my family strength during this time,” Barton said softly and haltingly. “I pray for my parents and most of all that God shed some light on what happened in this case.”
Errol Francis said after the hearing that Barton appeared to have no remorse.
“He doesn’t care, I can see that,” Errol Francis said.
Errol Francis and his wife tried to help Barton when he moved to Gwinnett County from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area by letting him move into their home for four months in the spring of 2010. They trusted Barton because his mother had been a longtime friend of Eva’s and his father was a minister back in their native Jamaica.
Errol, who owns a janitorial service business, had planned to put Barton in charge of his Atlanta business when he expanded to Toronto.
But the couple wound up kicking Barton out when he started lying about borrowing their car.
“Eva didn’t like that,” Errol said. “That upset Eva. I think maybe that was something that brought up a hatred.”
The couple reprogrammed their alarm system, and the alarm went off when Barton tried using his key to get inside a few months later. On the day of the murder, Barton came over to return the key at their request and stayed to visit with Eva for several hours, Errol Francis said.
But at some point in the evening, Barton apparently repaid the Francis’ kindness with wrath. After he gunned down Eva, he stole her jewelry, cash and vehicle.
Errol and his wife’s sister, Petal Anderson of Lithonia, said they were relieved Barton pleaded guilty so they would not have to relive her death during a trial.
“We’ve suffered a great loss,” Anderson said. “The grief, nothing can take that away.”