By Sally Voth - firstname.lastname@example.org
The sentence -- less than a quarter of the maximum allowed by state law -- left Brendon Manning Barker's family and friends reeling, proclaiming justice wasn't done.
The jury's recommendation of nine years in prison for second-degree murder and the mandatory three years for use of a firearm in the commission of a felony was met by gasps and sobs from Barker's loved ones sitting on one side of the Shenandoah County Circuit Courtroom. Second-degree murder carries a five- to 40-year term.
From the first 911 call made on Jan. 6, Bradley, 48, of 189 Wakemans Grove Road, Edinburg, admitted he'd shot Barker, a 16-year-old Strasburg High School student. Jurors listened to a 911 recording in which Bradley -- who appeared expressionless throughout his three-day trial -- unemotionally tells a dispatcher, "I shot an intruder in my home."
His tone was a contrast to that of his daughter, Sarah Bradley, who placed the call.
"My dad just killed my boyfriend," she sobbed. "He shot him in the head. He killed him. He's upstairs in the attic on the ground."
Defense attorney Gene Hart had argued that Bradley was a father frustrated by his inability to keep Sarah Bradley and Barker, whom he accused of supplying her with drugs, apart. Bradley had ordered Barker to stay off his property and had him served with a no-trespassing notice.
A firearms expert testified that the revolver was two to four feet from Barker's head when it was fired. A blood-stain analyst said Barker was reclining at the time.
Bradley admitted he suspected Barker was the person he heard in the attic. He placed a hamper outside the attic door and got a gun and a flashlight. He searched the attic while his daughter repeatedly told him no one was up there with her.
After the verdict was read, Sarah Bradley, sitting with Barker's family and her mother, buried her face in her hands, bent over her knees and sobbed.
"It's not justice," Barker's sister, Ryan Barker, cried out after court was adjourned.
Standing outside the front doors of the courthouse, she clasped Sarah Bradley, sobbing, "Why? How is that justice? A man can shoot a 16-year-old kid in the head and gets nine years in prison?"
The jury's recommendation was unfair, Sarah Bradley said in an interview in front of the courthouse.
"I don't understand, and I think this hurts second to Brendon's death," she said. "To me, my dad died the same day he killed Brendon. He's just a man who killed a 16-year-old boy to me."
Barker's mother, Janeen Johannsen, was the only witness to speak for either side prior to jurors' sentence deliberations.
"Being a mom is my purpose," she said. "This dream, my life dream, was shattered the moment my son lost his life. How does a mother even begin to convey in words and thoughts the full scope of pain and suffering that must be endured?"
Johannsen paused to turn and glare at Bradley. Family members sobbed as Johannsen spoke of the heartbreak of losing her only son, "the longing that knows no reprieve. It follows me every moment, envelops me, and I cannot be released from its fierce grip. I'm in constant anguish.
"This was my son. How could Jody Bradley do this to my son in front of his daughter, and leave him lying there to go and disassemble his gun?"
Johannsen referred to the trash bags Bradley used to try to soak up some of Barker's blood.
"The indecency, the brutality," she said. "My son wasn't garbage just to be disposed of. Even if Jody Bradley gets life in prison, his life isn't worth enough in exchange for my son's. There's no eye for an eye in this case. No part of Jody Bradley is equal to any part of Brendon."
Barker's stepfather, Jimmy Johannsen, was incredulous both that Bradley wasn't convicted of first-degree murder and with the recommended sentence.
"What happened was a joke," Johannsen said. "Where else in the world can you pull out a gun [and] point-blank shoot a 16-year-old guy that doesn't even pose a threat to you? Where else can you do that and get away with it? I've met a lot of kids, and trust me, Brendon takes the prize. We're very disappointed, very, very disappointed. First they reduced it to a second-degree murder, and then they give us a joke of a sentence on top of it."
Barker's friend, Colin Christensen, said he had been "confident" the jury would give Bradley a sentence that befitted the crime until Thursday night.
"It's not even a year for every year Brendon was alive," he said. "When Brendon was in that attic that day, he was terrified. He had no way out. He was frightened. Although it's just a number, I feel like if Jody Bradley had been [sentenced to] 43 years by the jury, it would've robbed everything from this man, and I think it would have hit him hard and I think he obviously would be terrified, and I want him to feel trapped and helpless and terrified like Brendon did in his final moments."
Ryan Barker, 26, called the verdicts the opposite of justice.
"People get more time on drug charges," she said. "This man executed my 16-year-old brother, who was the sweetest, most gentle young man I've ever known. I don't understand how people could be that unfair. Right now I would scream at [the jurors]. I can't understand how they couldn't see that this was obviously premeditated. This man threatened to shoot my brother on several different occasions to several different people. He put himself above the law and the jury thinks that's acceptable, and they call that justice? A 16-year-old boy lost his life, and they give the man who took it nine years?
"I hope they have nightmares over what they saw for the rest of their lives."