Damari Barnes, the 15-year-old Matanzas High School student and R-Section resident accused of killing Jamey “JuJu” Bennett, 19, at an outdoors party in early February, made his first in-person appearance in court Monday afternoon in hopes of getting his $500,000 bond lowered or eliminated while he’s awaiting trial. It did not go well.
The prosecution sought to revoke bond.
Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Dunton filed a motion to revoke after a violent, lurid fight Barnes allegedly instigated against a cell-mate at his detention facility last week. That plus the fact that he fled the state after the shooting may make it very difficult for the court to lower the bond, let alone eliminate it. The nature of the fight at the detention facility–Barnes is accused of forcing his cellmate to drink urine and threaten him to east his feces–may itself become damaging evidence if the prosecution successfully argues for its inclusion at trial, if it gets that far–or may be yet another piece of evidence that pushes Barnes toward a plea agreement, the state already having several witnesses to the shooting.
It’s the state’s intention to use that evidence to attempt shatter the defense’s claim that Barnes is a good kid with no prior record who made one terrible mistake.
Barnes’s attorney, who seemed shaken by the prosecution’s motion even though he said he was aware of the jailhouse incident, asked for a continuance, since Circuit Judge Terence Perkins said he would not rule on the revocation motion without ruling on its opposite as well. A subsequent bond hearing hasn’t yet been scheduled. But by the time Perkins agreed to the continuance both sides had already made substantial arguments, each for its motion, thus opening windows wider than court documents already have into the state of the case at this point. Barnes’s position is precarious.
Barnes had taken his mother’s Hyundai to drive with two friends to the February 5 open-invite birthday bonfire for a teenage girl in the woods off the property of a self-storage facility at 3895 Old Kings Road North. One of the people in the car witnessed Barnes take a semiautomatic pistol from the driver’s side door and put it in the pouch of his hooded sweatshirt. That witness is expected to testify at trial.
Girls were dancing around the bonfire when one of them bumped into Barnes. He yelled at her, then shoved her, according to witnesses and as summarized in his arrest report. Jamey “JuJu” Bennett, a friend of the girl Barnes had just shoved, told Barnes he shouldn’t put a hand on her. The two had a “physical altercation.” Bennett then punched Barnes once. Barnes fell, got up, took out the gun from his hoodie and shot Bennett once, killing him. He then drove off in the same blue Hyundai he drove there.
Barnes then fled, first to Volusia County, then to Georgia before turning himself in to authorities there on Feb. 24. On March 16 he was charged as an adult with manslaughter, a first degree felony. The next day Circuit Judge Chris France at Barnes’s first appearance set his bond at $500,000. Barnes has since been jailed at a juvenile detention facility in Jacksonville on Sheriff Rick Staly’s request, since there is no juvenile capability at the Flagler County jail except for brief holds during court proceedings.
Monday’s bond hearing was detailed enough that Barnes’s mother testified–as nearly a dozen from Barnes’s circle, family and friends, many of them around his age, sat in the courtroom. Robinson asked Barnes’s mother a series of yes and no questions in a rapid, staccato style–has he ever been arrested before (no), has he ever been a problem at home (no), is the bond “too much for you?” (yes), do you own property in Flagler? (no), and so on. She said family would help if bond was reduced. He repeated several of the questions at different times, as if to keep the rhythm of the questions and answers going–a tactic aimed at establishing a sense of certainty and control from the Barnes camp.
“If the judge were to release Mr. Barnes to your custody with electronic monitoring, would you be okay with that?” Robinson asked her. “Yes,” she said. When Robinson asked her what she could afford, she said she could come up with $3,000 to $5,000, which would translate to a bond of $30,000 at most.
Again, he’d be welcome in your home?” Robinson asked. Barnes would return to Ranshire Lane in Palm Coast.
“Yes,” Barnes’s mother replied.
“And you would force him to comply with rules?”
“force him to attend school?”
He would not, of course, be allowed at Matanzas High School nor at any local public school, and would almost certainly be barred from school property, though the district would potentially make arrangements for remote schooling. Barnes then asked questions that sought to humanize Barnes: he was a full time student, played football, track, was involved in some church activities.
Then it was Dunton’s turn. The Assistant State Attorney immediately went to questions about Georgia, where Barnes had fled, to establish that his biological father has family there. “But it was some two weeks between the offense date and the arrest date, is that correct?” Dunton asked, before asking the sort of questions that elicited doubt about why Barnes was never in communications with law enforcement until he turned himself in. Robinson then cast the question differently: “He did not run, he turned himself in, correct?” he asked. “Correct,” Barnes’s mother said.
Barnes himself then answered Robinson’s questions–the same yes-and-no questions he’d asked his mother, as well as asking him whether he turned himself in once he learned he had a warrant. “Yes, sir,” Barnes answered.
Robinson then argued bond should be lowered so Barnes “can have an opportunity to conduct himself as a 15 year old until these charges are resolved.”
Dunton had no witnesses. Only arguments: that Barnes shot a man in “a single-punch fight on behalf of the victim to which the defendant responded by shooting him.” One of the elements in a bond lowering is whether there’s been probable cause that another offence has been committed in the interim. That’s when Dunton pulled out the “new crime that has committed to the Duval County jail.”
Citing the arrest report, Dunton said “it lays out his facts, but it’s actually pretty egregious. It’s not just a simple battery or mutual fight that occurred in a jail.”
The report is detailed: Barnes was sharing a cell with L.M. and M.B., both 17. On April 3, inmates in a neighboring cell ordered L.M. to yell something sexual to them. He refused. The inmates told Barnes and his other cell-mate to beat up L.M. Barnes, the report states, “punched the victim […] several times as the victim stood against the cell wall. The victim offered no resistance.” M.B. stood at the cell door with a blanket, shielding the view from outside. A corrections officer approached, ordered M.B. to remove the blanket and shined a light inside. The officer detected nothing and walked on. M.B.–who is also facing charges as an adult–then “shoved the victim several times and pushed the victim’s head into the toilet.” After the victim sat on his bunk and dried himself, Barnes “went to the toilet and dipped something inside before returning to the victim and shoving it in the victim’s face,” according to the report. “Barnes then sat on the toilet and appeared to defecate” as M.B. beat the victim until an officer returned and came to his aid. The victim would later say that Barnes had defecated at the other inmate’s request “and they had threatened to make the victim eat it.”
The incident was documented on video surveillance and resulted in a new charge against Barnes, a third degree felony.
Robinson wasn’t prepared to argue the state’s motion. Perkins said he “wasn’t going to hear one without the other.” So the hearing was adjourned to an indefinite date, but likely to be later this week.