|Saturday, 29 January 2011 15:30|
Born: 1992. Virginia.
Died: April 10, 2008, PORTSMOUTH, Va
Cause of death: Stabbed 40 times
Notable because: Her close friend, Robert Barnes, 17, for no apparent reason showed up at her home in Portsmouth, tied her up, raped her, stabbed her 40 times and then returned to life as usual, before being caught by DNA, trying to lie his way out of responsibility and then finally confessing.
17-year-old Robert Barnes was a good boy - or so people thought. He was a talented violinist and top student at the Governor's School for the Arts in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was also a friend of 16-year-old Meghan Landowski..
Meghan Landowski was killed inside her Portsmouth home on April 10, 2008. Robert Barnes, 17, a former classmate and friend confessed to killing Landowski. In 2010, a judge sentenced Barnes to 42 years in prison for murder, sexual assault and burglary. There was no full, public trial in the case, a plea agreement prevented such a trial, so Meghan's parents asked Portsmouth Police to share the true horror of what happened to their daughter with the public.
Graphic details were uncovered in the crime scene photos. In one picture you can see where the killer grabbed a steak knife, in another you see the tape he used to tie her arms behind her back and cover her mouth. Another photo shows the killer's shoe print left in blood.
Landowski was sexually assaulted and stabbed more than 40 times. It was her father who found her. He duct taped her mouth shut and taped her arms behind her back. Then he raped her before stabbing her 40 times - a dozen of those wounds came after she was already dead. He left her bleeding with her pants down on the kitchen floor, the pool of blood spread 10-feet wide.
"And I stepped forward and I saw her laying there. She was white like a china doll," her father said in court. Meghan's father wanted the public to hear his heart-wrenching call to 911:
Father: "My daughter, she's um, looks like she's been sexually assaulted and she's bleeding to death. My daughter is bleeding, blood all over the place. Looks like her throat was slit. It looks like somebody tried to, her arms were tied behind her back."
911: "Alright. Hold on just a minute O.K."
Father: "Hurry please!"
911: "Do you know if she's breathing?"
Father: "No. No, she's not."
Meghan was dead. Six nerve racking months passed searching for the killer -- and then -- an arrest that stunned everyone. Meghan's own friend, a talented and very popular student, 17-year-old Robert Barnes was arrested in connection with her murder.
Police interrogation video shows Barnes, very calm and cool, selling a bogus story, claiming the real killer was a white man who forced Barnes to help attack Meghan. Barnes said, "He told me to tie her up and she was just saying, 'Don't do it. Don't do it.'"
Barnes got more animated as the details got more gruesome: "Grabbed her by the arm and turned around and she went back this way and she just started staggering and blood started going all over there and I just let her drop after that," he explained to interrogation officers. Barnes even came up with a lie to explain why police would find his DNA there, he claimed the mystery man cut him.
Barnes told officers, "He took my hand and he extended it and I think I was in the puddle at the time, like the puddle wasn't all that huge at the time. He extended it forward, he like leaned forward like this and he had me like four drops, he just kept going like this."
But Barnes eventually confessed. Meghan's parents and her brother and sister moved out of state and they're all going to counseling as they continue to struggle and deal with Meghan's murder.
To this day, Barnes has never said why he murdered the girl. In court, he apologized to the family. But he's never explained whether the attack was simply sexually motivated, or if he had a beef with the young girl.
...........Link to Archive
Two mothers took the witness stand Thursday to talk about their love for their children. Robert Lee Barnes' mother spoke of the good she still sees in her son and her hope that he will have a future.
The mother of his victim, Meghan Landowski, lamented the future her daughter will never have. And she struggled to understand why Barnes had brutally taken the life of a 16-year-old girl who had loved him "like a brother." After hearing the anguish of both sides, a judge sentenced Barnes to 42 years in prison for the April 2008 sexual assault and stabbing death of Meghan.
Commonwealth's Attorney Earle C. Mobley had asked the judge to unseal crime scene photos and look at them again before sentencing Barnes. Circuit Judge James C. Hawks said there was no need; they were "etched" in his mind.
Chris Shortt cannot forget the images either. Shortt found his stepdaughter's body when he got home on April 10, 2008. She had been bound and stabbed more than 40 times, left facedown in a pool of blood. On Thursday, he told the court what he remembered. How he found the front door open. How he walked in and initially thought he was looking at candle wax on the floor.
He said he called out to Meghan to help him get it cleaned before her mother got home. Then, he saw her lying there white as a China doll, he said. He felt for her pulse and she was cold, her skin like putty. Shortt stopped short of describing the fatal wounds to his daughter's neck, saying he wanted to spare his wife, Angela.
"It just didn't seem real that somebody could do that," he said, reflecting on the scene. Both Chris and Angela Shortt talked about how Meghan's death had changed the family. They are in counseling, and their son, now 17, still has nightmares and sleeps with a night light.
"Losing Meghan crushed my world," Angela Shortt testified. She talked of the outgoing, bubbly girl who was both daughter and best friend. Both parents spoke of Meghan's innate trust of other people.
She was a sophomore at Wilson High School at the time of her murder. The year before, both she and Barnes had been enrolled in the same magnet program for talented students at Churchland High School.
She was a dancer. Barnes, who was also 16 at the time of the crime, was described as a gifted violin player. They lived near each other and sometimes rode the same bus to school. Barnes' mother, Eboni Barnes Smallwood, read from a written statement in court, saying it was the first time she had spoken of the case.
She talked about how much she loved her son and how she would always be there for him. She asked the judge and Meghan's family for peace, forgiveness and mercy. And she asked for prayers, saying, "We don't have enough of that." Smallwood said both sides hurt. She talked about how she had raised her two sons alone, doing the best she could, and keeping them busy with school and off the streets.
A six-month investigation that included more than 100 interviews and the methodical elimination of suspects had led police to her son. When police first approached him in September 2008, he said he knew nothing about the murder. A few days later, he tried to throw police off by pretending he had just pulled a piece of bubble gum from his mouth, then offering it to a detective who had requested a DNA sample from him. A subsequent lab test revealed the DNA on the gum was from a female. In subsequent questioning, Barnes told police that Meghan had asked him to come over that day and that he climbed through a window when no one answered the door. He said a masked man who was already there forced him at gunpoint to bind and assault Meghan.
Prosecutors and the teen's lawyers agreed in court when he pleaded guilty in September that he had acted alone. Barnes pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, attempted rape, aggravated sexual battery, abduction and statutory burglary.
On Thursday, prosecutors asked the judge to consider the brutality of the crime, the suffering it had caused to Meghan's family and Barnes' danger to the community. A psychological evaluation that was submitted with the pre-sentence report was sealed and only alluded to in court. Mobley said it left the court with no assurance that Barnes would not do it again. Bob Morecock, one of Barnes' attorneys, told the judge that Barnes had been more productive than most of his peers up until he was 16. He described the teenager as a complex and talented young man who had worked hard to make a life for himself, despite the absence of a father or other male role model.
Bill Swan, one of the prosecutors, said everyone involved in the case saw "the dichotomy of this young man." But despite Barnes' academic and musical achievements, Swan said, "we now know what we were seeing was the tip of the iceberg." Given a chance to speak before sentencing, Barnes stood and read a long apology to Meghan's family. He said that his time in jail had helped him realize how important life is. Barnes said he wished he could "turn back the hands of time." He said he had grown up without his father, who was incarcerated.
After he spoke, the judge thanked everyone from the first-responders to the homicide detectives who had worked Meghan's case. "This community is grateful to you," Hawks said. Asking Barnes to stand, Hawks told him he "brought horror to the community."
As part of a plea agreement and to spare Meghan's family the turmoil of a trial, Mobley had agreed to not pursue a capital murder charge and not to ask for more than a 42-year prison term. The judge gave Barnes a total of 148 years, with all but the 42 suspended. The judge ordered that he serve 25 years of supervised probation upon his release.
As a juvenile, Barnes did not face the death penalty but could have faced life in prison. Under current state law, upon his release, Barnes will still be subject to possible civil commitment as a violent sex offender, Mobley said.
Barnes is now 18 years old. Mobley said 42 years is a long time to serve. "I think the likelihood that he ever gets out is slim."
|Last Updated on Saturday, 29 January 2011 16:01|