Child molestation trial: Jury finds Tyrone Barnum, 33, guilty but mentally ill

ariquelmy@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 9, 2011 

A man prosecutors say attacked and molested an 8-year-old girl in 2003 and who doctors have diagnosed as schizophrenic and previously unable to stand trial was found guilty but mentally ill on charges including aggravated child molestation on Wednesday.

Jurors took about five hours to convict Tyrone Barnum, 33, for the April 17, 2003, molestation, aggravated assault and false imprisonment of the girl and her friends who were playing school when the girl let Barnum, whom she knew, inside her Debby Street apartment. The jury acquitted Barnum of one count of aggravated assault and one count of possession of a knife during the commission of a crime.

Muscogee County Superior Court Chief Judge John Allen sentenced Barnum to 14 years in prison, followed by 16 on probation.

The girl’s mother spoke to Allen after the conviction about what the incident had done to her daughter, said Assistant District Attorney Kristy Dugan.

“She said that it was hard on the children,” Dugan added. “They’re afraid. They don’t trust anybody. She just wanted justice.”

Barnum told the judge that he’d said everything he’d needed to say, the prosecutor said.

Closing arguments

Barnum addressed jurors directly during his closing statement on Wednesday. He wore a black and gray jump suit as he reminded jurors that one of the questions he had asked of them during jury selection was whether they preferred steak or potatoes.

Barnum then said that his attorney, Columbus Public Defender Robert Wadkins, has argued that he could be a threat to the community even though people with schizophrenia have successful lives in society. Barnum has a disorder that’s being treated, he said before telling jurors that they had the right to take notes during the trial.

“Me and my attorney really don’t feel as if they have proven one case,” Barnum said. “I stand before you after a long period of eight years, in and out of county jail, in and out of West Central, saying I’m not guilty. Thank you.”

Wadkins told jurors that they have three choices of verdicts: guilty, not guilty or guilty but mentally ill. An acquittal would put his client on the streets with no medication. Guilty verdicts on charges including aggravated child molestation and aggravated assault would put him in prison and ultimately in a solitary cell until he died.

A verdict of guilty but mentally ill would put Barnum in a special facility where he could get treatment, the defense attorney said.

“He really believes he didn’t do these things,” Wadkins said. “As to faking — you think he could fake from 2003 until now?”

Assistant District Attorney Kristy Dugan said someone can be mentally ill and fake symptoms as well. She pointed to reports that Barnum told two women after the incident that police could do nothing to him because he was schizophrenic.

Two adults and five children testified about the events of April 17, 2003, and no one contradicted their stories, Dugan said.

“The defendant says he didn’t do it,” Dugan said. “I think he knows you know he did it. He just wants you to feel bad.”

Authorities claim that the 8-year-old girl, who’s now 16, let Barnum inside her apartment when he approached the back door. She knew him, and once he was inside he locked the front door, locking out the child’s caregiver. He then grabbed a knife, pointed it at a group of children inside the home and carried the 8-year-old to her upstairs room, where he touched her.

Barnum was still at the apartment when police arrived.

Doctors have found Barnum incompetent to stand trial a number of times since the accusations, though he was found competent in a hearing last year.

“He’s trying to exploit his diagnosis to try to get away with a heinous act,” Dugan said. “He’s sick, but he’s not that sick.”

Dugan told jurors that she had no problem with a verdict of guilty by mentally ill, saying it would serve justice.

“Justice would not be served if you acquit the defendant because of sympathy,” she added. “It takes a monster to do what he did.”

Jurors are currently deliberating in the case.

First day of trial

Barnum had been found incompetent to stand trial on allegations he forced a then-8-year-old girl into a room in a Debby Street apartment and inappropriately touched her on April 17, 2003. Wadkins told jurors during his opening statements that his client was deemed competent for trial at a recent hearing after at least one doctor since 2004 ruled he had “delusional thinking.”

One of those doctors, John Parmer, read from a court transcript in which Barnum told a judge: “It’s not that I’m crazy. I have psychic powers. It’s in the newspapers.”

“The doctors wrote that there was very little likelihood that he would ever be restored,” Wadkins said. “Here we are after eight years. We’ll try to show you that even though we have no burden of proof, that he did not do these things.”

The girl Barnum is accused of touching, now 16 years old, wept as she told jurors about the day she said she let Barnum into her apartment through the back door as she and her friends played school. She knew Barnum, and once he was inside he asked if her uncle was there. He wasn’t, and Barnum then locked the front door with the girl’s caretaker outside talking to a neighbor, she testified. At some point, Barnum picked up a knife, the girl added.

“The kids were at the table and he pointed it at the kids and they started screaming,” she said. “He came over to me and he had grabbed my arm. He took me upstairs.”

The girl said Barnum had her over his shoulder as he carried her to her room, where he pinned her down, choked her and unzipped her pants. Dugan told jurors that the girl kicked and screamed, biting her assailant at one point.

The caretaker had called police and been trying to get back inside the apartment after Barnum locked himself inside. When another woman returned to the home, she forced her way through a door, Dugan said.

Barnum heard a sound as if someone had burst inside the house, and both he and the girl went downstairs, the girl testified.

The girl went to the hospital and Barnum was still at the home when police arrived.

Barnum faces charges of aggravated child molestation, false imprisonment, aggravated assault and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime.

The doctor

Parmer, with West Central Georgia Regional Hospital, testified about Barnum’s history of mental evaluations. In one, Barnum was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and antisocial personality disorder, reports state. In several evaluations, Barnum was ruled to be incompetent to stand trial.

Parmer read from a court transcript in which Barnum spoke to a judge about the accusations. Barnum, Parmer read, had gone to the apartment to smoke marijuana with a friend. The friend wasn’t there, but several children were. Barnum began writing a letter when he said the girl began touching him, Parmer read from the transcript.

At the hearing, Barnum said he wanted himself and the girl to take a lie detector test.

Muscogee County Superior Court Chief Judge John Allen asked the doctor’s opinion on how Barnum’s condition would affect an insanity defense. Parmer said he concluded Barnum’s condition wouldn’t support that he’s criminally insane.

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service