When James Barrow walked into a Delaware State Police station more than two years ago and said he'd killed a Philadelphia man in 2009, he did so "knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily," and therefore his video-recorded confession can be used against him during his September trial, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd ruled Monday.
The confession is noteworthy because another man had been exonerated in the slayings of a West Philadelphia couple to which Barrow also confessed, but prosecutors haven't charged Barrow in their deaths and appear in no hurry to do so.
Although Barrow's chilling words will be evidence for the prosecution in the Aug. 24, 2009, home-invasion slaying of Kamara Joseph, 30 — whom Barrow told detectives he shot in the head when he made too much noise while he was trying to strangle him with a sneaker shoestring — nothing he said about killing the couple in their West Philadelphia home on Aug. 29 of that year will make it to court.
Barrow, 32, has not been charged in the home invasion slayings of Jonathan Pitts, 21, and Nakeisha Finks, 20. Barrow, a career criminal with a relatively low IQ of 75, confessed to killing the couple during the same interrogation sessions in February 2016 in Delaware and Philadelphia.
Barrow, speaking in a low monotone, told detectives that he had targeted Joseph and Pitts because he heard that they were drug dealers who may have had cash. He said he turned himself in 6½ years after the slayings because he feared he was being stalked.
At Joseph's home in the 2500 block of Shields Street in Elmwood, and at Pitts' home in the 5500 block of Delancey Street in West Philadelphia, Barrow said, he entered the same way — by pushing an air-conditioning unit through a first-floor window and crawling in. Barrow knew details about the slayings that only the killer would know, according to Philadelphia homicide detectives who testified during three days of hearings in April over whether his confession would be admitted as evidence.
In Joseph's slaying, among the details Barrow told investigators were that one of the victim's sneakers would be missing a string and that ligature marks were on the victim's throat. In the couple's slaying, Barrow said that Finks was wearing a man's T-shirt when he shot her and Pitts in the back of their heads.
"I never wanted to kill that girl, I never did," Barrow said on the video, played in open court for the first time during the April hearings. Barrow told the detectives that he did not know that anyone other than Pitts was in the house when he broke in.
Homicide Detective Joseph Bamberski testified in April that Barrow said he used the same gun to kill Joseph, Pitts, and Finks, and that a Police Department ballistics report completed eight days after his confession confirmed that the same gun had been used at both murder scenes.
Bamberski also testified that the same brand of duct tape was used to bind the wrists and ankles of all three victims.
Philadelphia defense lawyer Gregory Pagano said that with so much evidence linking Barrow to all three murders, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office should have charged him with killing Pitts and Finks.
Pagano's former client Nafis Pinkney was charged with killing Pitts and Finks after he allegedly confessed following a rough-handed, 24-hour interrogation. But the confession statement didn't match the trial evidence and the jury acquitted Pinkney, who last year received a $750,000 settlement from the city.
Pagano believes that if the district attorney were to charge Barrow with the double murder, it would be another acknowledgement that Pinkney was wrongly accused and that no one but Barrow was involved.
"This is why you can't force people to confess falsely to crimes they didn't commit, because it leads to absurd results like this," Pagano said. "The District Attorney's Office, the Philadelphia Police Department, have painted themselves into a corner by improperly, incorrectly, and falsely charging Nafis Pinkney."
Ben Waxman, spokesman for District Attorney Larry Krasner, said the investigation into the killings of Pitts and Finks is ongoing. He noted that there is no statute of limitations on homicide and added: "We are committed to fighting for justice in this case."
Michael Coard, Barrow's attorney, argued that his client's confession statement should be suppressed because he suffers from schizophrenia, psychosis, intellectual disabilities, and memory impairment.
"The question the jury is going to wonder is: Why in the world would somebody walk into a police station and confess to three murders, none of which he was being sought for, and two of which the commonwealth already prosecuted somebody else for?" Coard said after Monday's hearing.