By Katie Kull
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE - John Barrett will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for killing and abusing his ex-girlfriend's 2-year-old son.
In a Laramie County courtroom Friday, there was a lot of crying and anger, and at least some reckoning over the impact of what he had done.
Barrett's pleas to second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse effectively ended questions over whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty in his case.
As part of that plea, prosecutors and defense attorneys jointly recommended Barrett spend 50 years to life in prison for murder and 20-25 years in prison for child abuse.
His admission included an explanation of his conduct. Through tears, Barrett explained how in May of 2017, he was physically abusive while he babysat his then-girlfriend's son.
On May 22, he punched the child in the abdomen, delivering a blow that ultimately killed him, Barrett said.
The child's family then took the stand, starting with his mother, Cynthia Clark. She placed a tiny pair of pink-and-gray DC-brand sneakers on the podium to face the judge.
Through a written statement read by a victim services coordinator, Clark described her depression and the suffering she faced over her child's death.
She wrote about how much the 2-year-old loved trains, Flipper's arcade, his twin brother and his older sister. He was a "mama's boy," Clark said.
"Words cannot describe all that he was to me, his twin brother, his sister and his family," she said. "... Just because sentencing will be done, it will not mean that my family is no longer impacted."
Clark's mother, Ruth Marcetic, said she was on the phone May 23, 2017, when the child was given his last rites.
"It was excruciating," she said, then made reference to Barrett's admissions that he punched the child.
"Why? I just want to know why," Marcetic said through sobs. "I'm mad, I'm angry, I'm sad, I'm hurt. I dread that 'How are you doing?' question."
Laramie County District Attorney Jeremiah Sandburg then made a brief statement, saying that avoiding trial would offer "security" to the victims and the public.
"We know this will be the end," he said.
Barrett's public defenders then had a complicated argument to make - one about trauma, mercy and the justice system.
Wyoming Public Defender Diane Lozano and public defenders Brandon Booth and Robin Cooper spoke to Barrett extensively over the past year as they prepared for a potential death penalty trial.
All three attorneys commented on the impact of Barrett's unstable childhood - his father's incarceration and criminal activity, the physical abuse he endured, his mother's addiction.
Booth talked about how all Barrett really wanted was a family when he met Clark, but that, in the end, he didn't have the tools and learned experience to provide it.
And in his long conversations with Barrett, Booth said Barrett taught him about how much they had in common, and how much history and circumstance often dictated events.
"This (crime) is not something that he intended. This is not John Barrett," Booth said. "This is a human - a human being."
Booth also noted how readily Barrett admitted his mistakes and wanted to take responsibility.
"That has value. That counts for something," he said.
Lozano commented on the "brokenness" in the courtroom - the pain and suffering of everyone touched by Barrett's actions.
But ultimately, she said, people should consider whether there was a factor of mercy and compassion in those moments of brokenness that could encourage healing.
She called the plea agreement part of that process and the "best of the criminal justice system."
"It honors the value of both sides of this case - the life that was taken and the life that remains," she said.
Judge Catherine Rogers then sentenced Barrett to the terms recommended by both parties. Those sentences will run consecutively, meaning one after the other.